Friday 17 January 2020

North Korea’s nuclear crisis is far from concluded, says Trump

US president cautious after Kim vows to suspend tests

US President Donald Trump. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
US President Donald Trump. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Doina Chiacu in Washington

US President Donald Trump said the North Korean nuclear crisis is far from a conclusion yesterday, striking a cautious note a day after the North's pledge to end its nuclear tests raised hopes before planned summits with South Korea and the United States.

"We are a long way from conclusion on North Korea, maybe things will work out, and maybe they won't - only time will tell," Mr Trump said on Twitter.

North Korea said on Saturday that it was suspending nuclear and missile tests and scrapping its nuclear test site, and instead pursuing economic growth and peace.

World leaders welcomed the announcement, which came before the first North Korea-South Korea summit in more than a decade on Friday.

In a tweet minutes before sounding a more cautious tone, Mr Trump interpreted the North's statement as a pledge to denuclearise: "Wow, we haven't given up anything & they have agreed to denuclearisation (so great for world), site closure, & no more testing!"

However, North Korea leader Kim Jong-un's announcement did not include a commitment to scrap existing nuclear weapons and missiles, and there are doubts he would ever give up the nuclear arsenal his country has been developing for decades.

Summit: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Photo: REUTERS
Summit: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Photo: REUTERS

Mr Kim said North Korea no longer needed to test nuclear bombs or intercontinental ballistic missiles now that his country had the weapons, and he would gear all efforts toward economic development.

Some have expressed doubts about the North's intentions and South Korean President Moon Jae-in will be under intense international scrutiny when he meets Mr Kim on Friday.

"North Korea has a long history of raising the issue of denuclearisation and has committed to freeze its nuclear weapons programmes in the past.

"We all remember how those pledges and commitments went down over past decades," said Nam Sung-wook, a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University in Seoul.

School students stand in lines to watch the North Korea side from the unification observatory in Paju, South Korea. Photo: AP/Ahn Young-joon
School students stand in lines to watch the North Korea side from the unification observatory in Paju, South Korea. Photo: AP/Ahn Young-joon

"Although the North's announcement is quite dramatic, it's natural for the world to be extra sensitive to every word spoken by Kim."

In Washington, Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the US government viewed Mr Kim's pledge with scepticism.

"This is a great public relations effort by Kim Jong-un. I think everyone within the administration and Congress approaches this with scepticism and caution," he said.

Mr Kim is expected to meet Mr Trump in late May or early June, the first meeting between sitting leaders of the two countries.

CIA director Mike Pompeo, Mr Trump's nominee to become the next secretary of state, secretly visited North Korea and met with Mr Kim to discuss the summit three weeks ago.

Mr Moon, who welcomed Mr Kim's announcement as a "major" step toward denuclearisation, is making Friday's summit his sole focus this week, staying in the presidential Blue House to prepare with no outside engagements, a Blue House official said yesterday.

South Korea's presidential security service met officials from the military as well as the UN command on Saturday to discuss security at the border truce village of Panmunjom, where the inter-Korean summit will take place, the official said.

For the past few weeks, South Korea has been renovating Peace House, on its side of Panmunjom, to prepare for the summit with Mr Kim, who will be the first North Korean leader to set foot in the South since the 1950-1953 Korean War.

Today, the two Koreas will hold another round of working-level talks at the Tongil Pavilion on the North Korean side of Panmunjom to discuss protocol, security and media coverage of the summit.

Mr Moon now has a direct phone link with Mr Kim on his office desk, instead of having to communicate through a hotline at the joint security area in Panmunjom, which had been the main channel between the two sides over the Winter Olympics in February. The two leaders are expected to talk over the newly installed phone for the first time this week.

Irish Independent

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