The New York Times reports that North Korea is quietly continuing its nuclear weapons and missile programs without any pause despite agreeing in June to move towards denuclearization, and one of the leading experts on the region says the reports are correct and President Trump needs to bring back the maximum pressure campaign immediately.
“North Korea is making nuclear fuel and building weapons as actively as ever, the publicly available evidence suggests. But he now appears to be borrowing a page from Israel, Pakistan and India: He is keeping quiet about it, conducting no public nuclear demonstrations and creating no crises, allowing Mr. Trump to portray a denuclearization effort as on track,” the Times reported.
“Current and former intelligence officials say new assessments suggest that Mr. Kim has carefully read Mr. Trump and concluded that as long as the optics are good, and the exchanges between the two leaders are warm, he can hold off demands for progress toward disarmament,” the report continued.
Gordon Chang is an East Asian policy expert. He is author of “Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World” and “The Coming Collapse of China.” He says the reports are spot on.
“The New York Times is correct. The North Koreans are continuing to produce fissile material. They’re continuing to work on their reactor at Yongbin, which has no peaceful purposes. And it’s continuing to build facilities where they actually construct ballistic missiles,” said Chang.
He says the world is getting complacent because external relations between the U.S. and North Korea are much warmer.
“The intelligence is showing one direction. The North Koreans are going full steam ahead. The only thing they’re not doing is they’re not detonating nukes and they’re not launching missiles, but they don’t really need to do that to make progress,” said Chang.
Contrary to Trump administration promises to keep the maximum pressure campaign of sanctions and other penalties in place, those punishments did ease just before the Trump-Kim summit in June.
Chang says the U.S. stopped going after North Korean front companies in June and July and did not punish China, South Korea, or Russia for violating remaining sanctions.
“When Secretary of State (Mike) Pompeo says we haven’t relented in our maximum pressure campaign, he’s not exactly been candid with the American people,” said Chang.
Worse yet, Chang says North Korea sees any effort to find common ground, whether the easing of penalties or even holding a summit, as a sign of weakness and feels emboldened to continue its bad behavior.
Chang also says Trump can change this pattern immediately. With the stroke of a pen he could snap back to the maximum pressure campaign and slap penalties on China, South Korea, and Russia for violating the sanctions.
“He should do so immediately,” said Chang. “He’s allowed the situation to continue for too long.”
Listen here for the full interview with Gordon Chang and learn why he thinks Trump will get tough on North Korea again soon.