Trump-Kim Summit Fails to Reach Denuclearization Agreement, Talks Continue

Interview with Tim Shorrock, a Washington, D.C.-based journalist, conducted by Scott Harris

The second summit meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, ended without the hoped for signing of an agreement that would have North Korea begin the process of ending its nuclear weapons program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. Trump blamed Kim for the failure to reach an agreement on his demand for complete sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling the North’s main nuclear complex at Yongbyon.
But North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, disputed Trump’s explanation, saying that Pyongyang had only demanded partial sanctions relief in return for closing Yongbyon. He asserted that the U.S. had wasted an opportunity that “may not come again.”
But according to a South Korean official, the unexpected participation in the talks by Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton, well-known for his pro-war hawkish views and disdain for diplomacy, derailed the negotiations when he demanded the North turn over full accounting of all of its chemical and biological weapons.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Tim Shorrock, a Washington, D.C.-based journalist who spent part of his youth living in South Korea. Here, he assesses the outcome of the Trump-Kim summit meeting and prospects for future negotiations with the goal of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

TIM SHORROCK: The talk was before this meeting began, it looked like they were talking about North Korea offering to shut down Yongbyon facility, which is their largest nuclear plant. It produces plutonium for their bombs. It also is a uranium enrichment plant. It’s a huge complex. There were talking about shutting that down and in return getting, you know, sort of a partial lifting of sanctions from the U.S., the sanctions that had been imposed on the north. And also, there was talk of both sides opening liaison offices in each other’s capital and making a declaration that they support the end of the Korean War.

But there got to be a lot of pushback inside the administration from the forces that are led by John Bolton and Trump’s national security advisor who’s never been a friend of negotiating with North Korea. And, you know, there were leaks in the press about how certain officials thought Trump was going to give away the store and they didn’t think that policy was on track and so on.

And so, you know, it was very clear that there was some dissension within the administration. Kind of at the last minute, Bolton threw on the table a demand that North Korea also shut down all its chemical and biological weapon systems. This was not even part of the denuclearization talks.

And so, you know, he added this at the Hanoi meeting and that also, you know, chilled the atmosphere for dialogue. I mean, you know, you’re here, you have this negotiation supposed to be about nuclear weapons. So you throw in like, you know, everything else and that was, you know, in my opinion that was designed to make the talks fail.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Tim, I wanted to ask you this certainly overarching question. When a lot of American commentators are asked about these talks and the prospects for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, there’s a lot of folks, moderate commentators, folks from right-wing and moderate think tanks and so on who say, “Kim will never give up nuclear weapons because it’s the only insurance policy he has to keep his family dynasty in power.

There are certainly people who will point out that Libya is a cautionary tale where the United States worked to denuclearize Libya’s in-progress nuclear program and then, you know, some years later, as we all know, (Muammar) Gaddafi was overthrown and killed. It is a cautionary tale for many nations around the world that if you have the nukes, the United States will not be overthrowing your government anytime soon. What do you make of the analysis that Kim will never give up the nukes because it’s the only insurance policy he has?

TIM SHORROCK I don’t agree. I think it’s very possible he would. But like I said, I think there has to be a situation where he feels his country is secure, you know, without them. And, actually, you know, no chance of a U.S. regime change operation or invasion or attack. And so, like we did the first two steps of the agreement that they made in Singapore was One, to establish new North Korea-U.S. relations and Two, work toward a peace regime between North and South Korea. And so like, to them, restoring a real – it’s never had one really before – creating a new relationship with the U.S. where they’re no longer enemies is their priority. And that’s why they have the weapons. And if they feel like that, if they can have a relationship and you know – develop economic ties, cultural ties – then that’s when, you know, new denuclearization would be at the last stage of that.

And that’s sort of how the South Koreans see it, too. Not denuclearization as an end in and of itself, but as the end of a process in which, you know, the U.S. and South Korea stop being enemy states and be at least, you know, on a normal relationship like you have with other countries – not necessarily friends or allies, but you know, no longer enemies. I disagree with people who say that.

And there’s also a lot of propaganda here among the thinktanks and this sort of huge new generation of North Korea so-called experts who say North Korea’s real aim is to drive U.S. forces out of South Korea and unify the country into their own system – which I think is bunk.

Tim Shorrock is author of the book, “Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing.” Read more of Tim Shorrock’s articles at the Nation Magazine.

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