South Korea’s president says North Korea is ready to scrap its nuclear weapons program with virtually no conditions, but a leading expert on North Korea says President Trump must keep the heat on Kim Jong Un and China to get a deal worth signing.
Gordon Chang, author of “Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World,” also says the South Korean president might be a bigger stumbling block to an acceptable deal than Kim is.
Optimism is on the upswing for the upcoming summit between Trump and Kim after South Korean President Moon Jae-in publicly indicated that North Korea is prepared to give up its nuclear program.
“I don’t think denuclearization has different meanings for South and North Korea. The North is expressing a will for a complete denuclearization,” Moon said Thursday, according to Reuters.
“They have not attached any conditions that the U.S. cannot accept, such as the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea. All they are talking about is the end of hostile policies against North Korea, followed by a guarantee of security,” added Moon.
Kim has said very little publicly, but Chang still sees an opportunity for something significant to happen in the Trump-Kim talks.
“We should be cautiously optimistic that President Trump, if he wants to exert American power, can perhaps bring a very good outcome to the Korean Peninsula,” said Chang.
“This provides the opportunity for a breakthrough. I’m sure Kim Jong Un doesn’t want to give up his most destructive weapons and won’t do it unless there’s severe pressure, but President Trump is in a position to apply that pressure,” said Chang.
According to Chang, Kim is rattled by Trump’s policies and personnel choices, and that may mean he’s ready to make major concessions.
“He doesn’t want the the U.S. to strike his nuclear or his missile facilities. You now have John Bolton as national security adviser, who made some very hawkish statements when he was a Fox News contributor. I’m sure that’s unnerving Kim and probably the Chinese as well,” said Chang, who believes the pain of sanctions is a factor here as well.
“I do think that our sanctions campaign has been working. There were reports, for instance, from South Korea that North Korea could run out of foreign exchange reserves by October. That’s maybe a little bit optimistic but, nonetheless, we do know they’re running out of money.
“And we’re also hearing from the Chinese that Office #39, which is the Kim family slush fund, is low on cash. There’s a lot of information that corroborates the view that Kim actually needs sanctions relief,” said Chang.
Chang believes Trump should meet with Kim but should crank up the pressure even more. He also hopes Trump allies pressure on China.
“In the last month, Beijing has done some things which are really disturbing, in violating the UN sanctions openly. So we need to put some pressure on the Chinese right now to make sure that Kim understands that President Trump is willing to go not only against him but also against China,” said Chang.
Even more encouraging for Chang than North Korea’s reported willingness to give up its nukes is the mindset President Trump says he is taking into the meeting with Kim.
“President Trump said something significant on Wednesday at his joint press conference with Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister. He said he’s willing to walk away, and that’s absolutely critical. If you’re willing to walk away, you can get a good deal,” said Chang.
He says the biggest mistake the Obama administration made in negotiating the Iran nuclear deal was to make it clear the U.S. was eager for a deal.
However, the biggest stumbling block to forcing Kim’s hand may be South Korea. Moon is desperate to achieve unity on the Korean peninsula, and that may play to Kim’s favor.
“We’ve got to be more concerned about Moon Jae-in than we do about Kim Jong Un. We know that Kim is an out-and-out villain. I think we need to view Moon in a very suspicious light, especially because of the things he has done to undermine the United States and also because of what he wants to do,” said Chang.
North Korea’s overarching objective is to conquer South Korea and Chang says Moon and his sympathetic allies in Seoul are doing some of Kim’s work for him.
“He’s got a willing partner in Moon Jae-in, who is trying to amend the South Korean constitution to make it more compatible with North Korea. Moon has a lot of senior advisers who, in their college days, were openly pro-North Korean and today they won’t disavow those earlier positions,” said Chang.