Idaho State Journal | There is unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive us.
— current U.S. intelligence official on North Korea
Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile pledges are about as disposable as toilet paper.
— Harry Kazianis of Fox News
Just as Trump abandoned a good Iranian nuclear agreement, so must he be willing to abandon a bad North Korean one.
— The Economist (6/16/18)
I can’t decide which is more embarrassing for our country: Trump buddying up to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, or Trump praising Russia’s Putin for being “strong” and “powerful” in his denial of election meddling. A recent cartoon shows Kim and Putin sharing stories about how easy it is to fool our self-absorbed, easily flattered excuse for a president.
Trump is easily deceived because he cannot, even for a moment, look outside himself and reflect about what is really going on. Here is the perfect example: “I don’t think the North Koreans have ever had the confidence, frankly, in the president they have right now.” Yes, they have full confidence that they, after decades of hard, deceitful bargaining with the U.S., can get a great deal from a man who does not read briefings nor listen to his advisers.
“Propaganda Gift to Kim”
Speaking after the Singapore Summit, Trump praised Kim for being “very smart,” and he was disappointed that the American people did not love him as much as North Koreans did their murderous dictator. John Feffer of the Institute for Policy Studies said that this “was an enormous propaganda gift to the North Korean leader.”
Completely clueless about protocol, Trump returned the salute of a North Korean general present at the summit. Retired Rear Adm. John Kirby remarked that “it was an inappropriate for him to do from a protocol perspective, but now he’s played right into the North’s propaganda about their legitimacy on the world stage.”
Trump Gives Away the Store
Without an agreement on any definite steps toward North Korea’s denuclearization, Trump tweeted: “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.” As with most of Trump’s ill-advised pronouncements, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had to walk back one more give-away to the North Koreans.
Without consulting anyone, Trump canceled the annual wargames in conjunction with the South Korean military, which he said were “provocative” (Kim’s own words) and too costly. On May 3, taking the South Korean government totally off guard, Trump ordered the Pentagon to prepare for a reduction in the 28,000 troops stationed near the capital Seoul.
Why should China and Russia continue their sanctions against Kim, if Trump is, witlessly, making it easier for them to ease off? At the Helsinki Summit Trump thanked Chinese President Xi Jinping for his cooperation, and, incredibly enough said that it was “OK” to let up pressure on his border with North Korea. As The Economist commented: “It’s hard to imagine how America could reimpose a ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions even if it wanted to.”
Trump is a fool for not only praising Kim but trusting him. Asia expert Patrick Cronin comments: “Kim is keeping his distance, perhaps considering how he will able to win sanctions relief without taking serious denuclearization steps.” Meanwhile, the Trump administration line has softened, and the principal evidence is that the phrase “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization” has not been uttered in weeks.
North Korea Cannot be Trusted
Harry Kazianis, foreign affairs commentator for Fox News, has declared that “Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile pledges are about as disposable as toilet paper,” and an editorial in The Economist reminds its readers that “North Korea has promised disarmament again and again over the past 30 years, only to renege each time after pocketing generous inducements.”
“Crime Cartel Boss Kim Wins in Singapore”
Korea expert Nicholas Eberstadt of the conservative American Enterprise Institute proclaimed that “Kim wins in Singapore.” He explains that North Korea “walked away with a joint communique that read almost as if it had been drafted by North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” Eberstadt states that Kim is “the boss of a state-run crime cartel that a U.N. Commission of Inquiry wants to charge with crimes against humanity.”
What about Human Rights; Weapons to Syria and Iran?
Republicans have criticized Obama for not insisting that the Iranian government gives up its support for terrorists and give its citizens more freedom, but Trump did not say a word about Kim’s far worse human rights record. Trump has also said nothing about North Korea shipping chemical weapons to and sharing nuclear knowledge with Syria and Iran. Trump has re-imposed sanctions on Iran, but, as we have seen, let the sanction regime against North Korea, with nukes and a far worst human rights record, disintegrate.
Nuclear Warheads: North Korea 65; Iran Zero
Trump frequently calls Iran a nuclear threat, but thanks to Obama’s hard bargaining, the Iranians currently don’t have any nuclear warheads. The 2015 agreement required the Iranians to destroy centrifuges that produced Uranium-235, and 95 percent of its nuclear material has now been shipped to Russia. The Iranians have announced that if Trump does not change his mind, they will resume their nuclear program.
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are on the ground to keep the Iranians honest, but they may soon be asked to leave. Trump’s decision to scrap Obama’s good deal will now allow the Iranians to make their first bombs. Trump’s threats to go to war with them will only accelerate their efforts.
Plutonium Production Ceased under Clinton
For almost 10 years the IAEA was present in North Korea monitoring its sites. In 1992, North Korea signed the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons agreement, and in 1994 President Bill Clinton negotiated a deal with the North Koreans to stop the production of the bomb ingredient plutonium.
Republicans had always criticized Clinton for being too soft, and President George W. Bush’s harder line led to North Korea asking the IAEA to leave in 2003. The result is that North Korea now may have as many as 65 nuclear weapons and it has the capacity to produce one more every week if it chooses to. It has also successfully tested its first hydrogen bomb. It now has over 1,000 missiles, and the latest are capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.
“They Are Trying to Deceive Us”
Before the Singapore Summit North Korea stopped all weapons and missile testing and it has destroyed one civilian testing site (others still exist), but, contrary to its promises in Singapore, one U.S. official told NBC that “there’s no evidence that they are decreasing stockpiles, or that they have stopped their production. There is unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive us.”
U.S. intelligence is certain that there are secret nuclear weapons development sites that the North Koreans are not acknowledging and where production is increasing. There one can assume that centrifuges are running 24/7 and churning out more Uranium-235 for more bombs.
De-Nuclearization Will Take Ten Years
John Bolton, Trump’s third national security advisor in 19 months, once believed that North Korea should be bombed into submission, but now he believes that under Trump’s leadership “major steps toward denuclearization could be taken in a year.” None of the experts believe this, and most estimate that, assuming Kim will even cooperate, it would take at least 10 years for North Korea to denuclearize. Bolton now admits that North Korea “has not taken the steps we feel are necessary to denuclearize.”
What Pompeo’s job doubly difficult is this acute observation by Daniel Russel, a former Asian diplomat: “Why should the North Koreans make concessions to one of Trump’s aides given the president’s record of undercutting them,” and, I might add, not consulting them at all?
A North-South Peace Treaty before De-Nuking?
The North Koreans have added another condition for them to give up their nuclear weapons: they want a permanent peace treaty with South Korea. Such an agreement, which would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, would ensure Kim’s survival, unless it would lead to a reunification of the Korean peninsula. This would perhaps lead to elections, and even with millions of brain-washed supporters, Kim most likely would not win an all-Korea election in which the South outnumbers the North by about 2-1.
Pompeo: Meetings Have Gone Badly
Meetings after the Singapore Summit have not gone very well, to say the least. After announcing that progress had been made in his first meeting with North Korean officials, Pompeo finally admitted that it actually “went as badly as it could have gone.” Kim, who visited a potato farm instead of greeting Pompeo, described his visit as “regrettable,” and he accused him of making “gangster-like” demands.
Trump Lies About Soldiers’ Remains
At a meeting with Republican leaders in Nevada, Trump said that “thousands of parents” had begged him to do something about this, and he said that the remains of 200 soldiers had already been received. The North Koreans had canceled a follow-up meeting on this issue, and Pompeo, once again in rescue mode, admitted that “we have not yet physically received them.”
Iraq War veteran Will Fischer was outraged: “It’s beyond the pale to lie about remains of fallen service persons already being returned, when they, in fact, haven’t been. Remains like these aren’t some prize, where you can make up some big fish stories. Trump disrespected Gold Star families during the campaign, and he’s doing it now.”
On July 27, 55 small caskets were escorted off a C-17 at Osan Air Force Base in South Korea, but the remains still must be identified. During the Clinton and Bush II administrations, 220 remains were returned, but some of them were adulterated by mixed individuals and animal bones. (Initial examination by forensic experts has indicated that they are human.) The U.S. has paid the North Koreans $22 million for this effort—they are asking for still more—and one wonders what else they might be doing with this money.
Meanwhile North Korean nuclear weapons production continues, and we can be sure that Kim will make the negotiations as tough and tortuous as he can. Recently Trump boasted that he got another “nice” letter from Kim, but it is obvious that Kim has decided to play this vain man for all that it is worth.
Nick Gier of Moscow taught philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years. He is also President of the Idaho Federation of Teacher, AFT/AFL-CIO.