June 13, 2018 | Policy Brief

At Summit, North Korea Offers Vague Denuclearization Pledge

June 13, 2018 | Policy Brief

At Summit, North Korea Offers Vague Denuclearization Pledge

In a joint statement with President Trump following their historic summit in Singapore, Kim Jong Un pledged “his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The statement does not include a timeline for denuclearization, nor does it require North Korea to take any specific steps toward that goal, although the president assured journalists that U.S. and international observers will verify Kim’s compliance.

Kim’s commitment to denuclearization is reminiscent of North Korea’s 2005 pledge to abandon “all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs” as part of its “verifiable denuclearization.” The next year, Pyongyang test-fired ballistic missiles and then conducted its first nuclear test. Regardless, the U.S. returned to the negotiating table in 2007 and reversed sanctions on Macau’s Banco Delta Asia, a key facilitator of sanctions evasion.

Several days before the Trump-Kim summit, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated that the “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization [a.k.a. CVID] of the Korean Peninsula is the only outcome that we will find acceptable.” It is difficult to evaluate whether Trump and Kim’s joint statement is a small step toward CVID or a sign that the Trump administration will accept other outcomes. The president noted that additional negotiations led by Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton will flesh out the details.

At a press conference following the summit, President Trump said that Kim Jong Un had made a verbal commitment to certain measures relevant to denuclearization, including the destruction of a missile engine test site. The president also announced that Kim had agreed to return the remains of thousands of American soldiers lost during the Korean War. For its part, Trump said the U.S. will discontinue joint military exercises with South Korea, a concession the U.S. has adamantly resisted in the past, but which Trump justified as a cost-cutting measure.

One point on which the president seemed to hold firm was sanctions. “The sanctions will come off when we are sure that the nukes are no longer a factor,” he said. Nonetheless, North Korean state media reported that Trump had pledged to lift sanctions. China also suggested that the UN begin easing sanctions to facilitate dialogue. The U.S. should quickly clarify the situation while insisting that North Korea and China, as well as Russia, cease their efforts to undermine the sanctions already in place. Last month, Japan detected an illegal ship-to-ship transfer between a North Korean and Chinese vessel. There were also indications of an illegal visit by a North Korean ship to a Chinese coal handling port. Earlier this year, the UN reported illegal North Korean support for the Syrian chemical weapons program. The U.S. should respond to such acts of bad faith by imposing additional sanctions.

In the days and weeks ahead, it will be imperative for the United States to determine rapidly whether Kim intends to follow through on his commitment. The essential starting point for this process is a full declaration by North Korea of its nuclear program, followed by inspections to verify the accuracy of Pyongyang’s declaration. If Kim resists this move toward transparency, either by creating delays or by demanding new concessions, it will show he is not serious about denuclearization.

If North Korea refuses to make the specific commitments necessary to ensure real denuclearization, as well as the destruction of its illegal chemical and biological weapons, the U.S. should return swiftly to a more aggressive version of the maximum pressure policy that brought Kim to the table in the first place.

Mathew Ha is a research associate at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, focused on North Korea. David Adesnik is the director of research at FDD. Follow them on Twitter @MatJunsuk and @adesnik.

Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


North Korea