Trump administration officials are still pretending that North Korea agreed to surrender its nuclear weapons. That’s incredibly dangerous.
The Trump administration’s new special envoy to North Korea, former Ford executive Stephen Biegun, is already repeating the White House’s lie that Kim Jong Un agreed to the “full denuclearization of North Korea.”
It’s a lie that Trump and his officials have been telling ever since Trump returned from his disastrous summit with the North Korean dictator in Singapore earlier this year.
But this isn’t just an ordinary Trump lie. It’s a real threat to our national security.
Following the summit in June, Trump and his allies were quick to claim victory.
“There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea,” Trump boasted on Twitter the following morning.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted he would pursue the “final, fully verified denuclearization North Korea has agreed to by Chairman Kim.”
National security adviser John Bolton claimed Kim swore to denuclearize within a year.
However, what Trump and Kim actually agreed to is very different.
The actual document says: “The DPRK commits to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Kim did not agree to give up his nuclear arsenal. He only agreed to “work toward” a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula — not just a nuclear-free North Korea.
To the casual observer, that may seem like a distinction without a difference, as South Korea does not have nuclear weapons and the U.S has no nuclear weapons deployed there. But to North Korean experts, that phrase is understood to have a very particular meaning.
That’s because the U.S., a nuclear power, does have thousands of troops stationed in South Korea and conducts drills with nuclear-capable assets on the peninsula. In that sense, the entire peninsula exists under what is described as America’s “nuclear umbrella.”
“North Korea can interpret the phrase to mean a termination of the American security guarantee and nuclear umbrella to South Korea, or more literally, as universal disarmament by all nuclear countries,” wrote nuclear proliferation expert Vipin Narang and international security analyst Ankit Panda in a joint New York Times op-ed the day of the summit.
Kim Jong Un did not agree to unilaterally surrender North Korea’s nuclear weapons. Instead, he agreed to “work toward” the conditions under which the U.S. would close its nuclear umbrella off from the Korean peninsula.
In other words, Kim “agreed” to try to get the United States to change its nuclear policy, and made no firm commitments about North Korea’s own. It is the exact same language used in the failed 1992 Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
The U.S. obviously has no plans to limit its nuclear capabilities in the region, which also includes its main nuclear adversaries, China and Russia.
Despite all of this, Trump officials, including Pompeo, Bolton, and now Stephen Biegun, continue to insist that Kim keep his “promise” to denuclearize — even as North Korea is increasing its production of nuclear weapons post-summit.
These officials’ statements may boost Trump’s self-image as a supreme deal-maker and play well on Fox News, but they threaten the actual diplomatic process.
North Korea has already decried what it considers the one-sided, “gangster-like” demands of the United States to disarm. So today’s statement by Biegun is not a promising start for a man whose sole responsibility will be to negotiate with the North Koreans on the nuclear issue.
Worse, though, is the possibility that these statements by administration officials may confuse a president who already has a loose grasp on both policy and reality.
If Trump truly believes his advisers’ claims about the meaning of the Singapore agreement, he may eventually come to the conclusion not that his advisers were wrong — but that Kim was lying.
If and when that happens, Trump will get angry. So angry, perhaps, that he’ll go right back to making dangerous threats to destroy North Korea with “fire and fury.”
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.