Avoiding a schismMarc Knapper, acting U.S. ambassador to Seoul, said Monday that a summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is aimed at achieving the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of the North’s nuclear weapons. He also underscored that it cannot be a subject of negotiation. His remarks reflect the Trump administration’s official position on the denuclearization of North Korea.
The acting U.S. ambassador chose sensitive timing for his statement, shortly after a senior Blue House official cast doubt on the possible application of the Libyan model — scrapping nuclear weapons first and giving sanctions relief later — to North Korea. The Blue House official’s comment was in line with an “incremental resolution of the nuclear problem” as hinted by Kim Jong-un during his surprise summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing last week.
Knapper’s remarks send a strong message to the Moon Jae-in administration that there should not be a gap between Seoul and Washington over the scope and style of denuclearization particularly ahead of an inter-Korean summit on April 27 and another one between Trump and Kim some time afterward.
The Moon administration came back “emptyhanded” last week after high-level talks with North Korea at Panmunjom. A date was set for the inter-Korean summit without reaching any agreements on the agenda. As a result, Washington seems to believe that even if the Moon-Kim summit is held, no substantial accomplishment is likely to be made on the critical issue of denuclearization.
In that case, pressuring North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons falls on the U.S. alone. That’s why Knapper delivered a stern message to Seoul that it must demand denuclearization from Pyongyang and draw significant concessions toward it.
Any cracks between Seoul and Washington can trigger schisms on the sanctions front and weaken their negotiating power. John Bolton, Trump’s new national security adviser, said that North Korea can complete its nuclear weapons development in nine to 12 months. That’s a warning that America will return to putting maximum pressure, including the threat of military action, on the rogue state unless it completely scraps its nuclear weapons within a year. Our government must abandon the “phased denuclearization” approach, which could take as long as 10 years. Seoul and Washington must closely cooperate if they desire to denuclearize North Korea in such a short period of time.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 3, Page 30