A day after Kim Jong-un’s pledge to end nuclear tests was greeted with a somewhat euphoric welcome by Donald Trump ~ “so great for the world” ~ the US President was remarkably cautious on Sunday when he effected a reality check on the eve of the summit, asserting that the “nuclear crisis was far from conclusion”.
Has Trump left the door open to walk out from the high table ~ as he has threatened ~ if things don’t work out his way at the Pyongyang summit? There was a ring of scepticism when he said that “we are a long way from conclusion on North Korea, maybe things will work out, and maybe they won’t; only time will tell. But the work I am doing now should have been done a long time ago!” On closer reflection, Kim’s overture lends no scope to be carried away.
Though world leaders have generally welcomed the announcement about the end to nuclear tests, the North Korean President’s announcement to his country did not include a commitment to scrap existing nuclear weapons and missiles.
There are doubts too over whether he will ever give up the nuclear arsenal that the North has been developing for decades. Kim’s summit with the South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, in the demilitarised zone will be closely observed by the world not the least because North Korea has a long history of raising the issue of denuclearisation couched in a commitment to freeze its nuclear weapons programmes in the past.
In point of fact, such pledges have scarcely attained fruition; the signal of intent must fructify in a dramatic change in Pyongyang’s nuclear programme. As summits are the flavour of the season, Kim has been calculating enough to play to the gallery ~ both in Washington DC and Seoul. Although the North’s announcement is quite dramatic, it is but natural for the world, not least the US and Japan, to be particularly sensitive to every word spoken by Kim.
Arguably, a firm commitment to denuclearise could not be expected before negotiations with the US. Kim may just have expressed his willingness to facilitate smooth negotiations. Apparently, he has made what appears to be a significant concession to the US, but he may well have cemented the status quo.
It remains unclear whether he intends to dismantle the nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. True, he has extended an olive branch before heading for the high table, hoping that the US would accept the deal before Kim agrees to give up nuclear weapons.
As it turns out, the White House has accepted the oilve branch, but with a modified “yes”. Japan has been more explicit. It has rejected the move as “not sufficient” because it does not state whether the suspension will include those missiles that could hit Japan. Geostrategies are ever so uncertain.