“NBC Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd drew President Donald Trump’s ire Sunday for saying that a more positive tone for negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear program was in the air, but not more than that. A Trump tweet insisted that North Korea indeed had agreed to denuclearization, so we looked at the record.
In terms of what North Korea itself has said, Trump has gotten ahead of events.
North Korea announced April 20 that it would shut down its northern nuclear test site. A translation of a broadcast from North Korea’s state news agency said North Korean President Kim Jong Un unveiled the decision at a Workers’ Party Central Committee meeting.
Kim also reiterated the promise to conduct no weapon or missile tests while talks were under way. He added that tests were no longer needed because the country had met its goal of developing its weapons capability.
So far, North Korea has yet to officially commit to scrapping its nuclear program.
Most recently, South Korean President Moon Jae-in told dozens of South Korean media executives April 20 that North Korea was “expressing its commitment to complete denuclearization.”
Moon said North Korea is not demanding the withdrawal of American troops from bases in South Korea. That would be a significant shift, but as the Korean newspaper Dong-a Ilbo reported along with Moon’s comments, “there is still a considerable gap between Washington’s demand of the North’s denuclearization in a minimum period of time and Pyongyang’s calls for progressive and synchronous measures for denuclearization.”
Denuclearization has been in the air since Kim made a rare trip to Beijing to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The official Chinese news service Xinhua reported March 28 that Kim said, “It is our consistent stand to be committed to denuclearization on the peninsula.”
So, no direct statements from North Korea on denuclearization, but the word has been in play and not refuted by North Korea.
A Reuters report from April 19 said, “South Korea’s Moon says North seeking ‘complete denuclearization’.”
In the nuances of diplomacy, the transition from “seeking” to “agrees to” is a big deal.
South Korean skeptics of the North’s intentions have noted that denuclearization has been central in previous high-level negotiations without producing tangible results.
Trump said North Korea had agreed to denuclearization. While North Korea has promised to halt testing and close a weapons test site, it has not officially said it is committed to denuclearization. Other leaders have made that statement on their behalf, and even in that case, the only promise is that they are willing to talk about reaching that point. That is not the same as agreeing to do it.
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