Fear of ignorance
*The author is the Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
It is somewhat expected that North Korea would threaten to pull out of its summit with the United States. Crafty Pyongyang will not let Donald Trump’s rashness pass unanswered. But what surprised me were two scenes that happened in the United States and Korea.
First, in the United States, President Trump discussed the “Libya model” that his national security adviser, John Bolton, mentioned. Trump said he was not considering the idea of applying the model to North Korea. I could not believe my ears when I heard his long explanation. In fact, Bolton’s Libya model refers to Libya in 2003. From March to September 2003, Libya had a secret negotiation with the United States and declared dismantlement of its nuclear program in December. The United States promoted a complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement. This is the Libya model that Bolton mentioned.
However, Trump must have confused it with Libya in 2011. He referred to the Arab Spring that spread across the Middle East and led to the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi. “We never said to Gaddafi, ‘Oh, we’re going to give you protection’,” he said. Trump was actually talking about a completely different situation and time.
There are two possibilities about what this means. One possibility is that Trump might not have understood what the Libya model was all about. Personally, I think this is more likely. He needed to say that the United States was not pursuing the Libya model, but he only knew about the fall of Gaddafi. I am frightened to think that Korea’s fate is in the hands of such an unprepared American president.
The other possibility is a twist. The “Trump model” that he has in mind could be the “expulsion of Gaddafi” that he mentioned. If his summit with North Korea goes well, he might call it a “Trump model,” but if it fails, he might imply that the card will be used. In fact, Trump did not mention denuclearization and instead used the word “decimate” seven times. I am concerned of Trump’s potential ignorance and change of heart.
In Korea, I was taken aback by remarks by so-called pro-Moon Jae-in figures on North Korea’s peace offensive. After Pyongyang criticized the Max Thunder air drill on May 18, Jeong Se-hyun, a former unification minister, said the defense minister should be warned not to scale down the exercise. He meant to say that the U.S.-North summit will only work if inter-Korean relations go well. But since when did South Korea need to care about how North Korea feels before taking its first step toward denuclearization? Did the defense minister really need to be warned?
Justice Party Rep. Kim Jong-dae, who visited Washington with Moon Chung-in, President Moon’s special adviser on security and foreign policy, recently said that the “verification fundamentalists” are shaking the U.S.-North summit. If verification is not absolutely required, what should be? Thorough verification is the key to denuclearization. This is not fundamentalism but principlism. While South Korea is internally disarmed and gets caught up in North Korea’s pace, Pyongyang’s arrogance and negotiating edge are on the rise.
A White House official told me about a short conversation that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un two weeks ago. I hope that from it we can deduce how to act and think.
The conversation took place about 10 days after the moving inter-Korean summit that took place at the border village of Panmunjom. After Pompeo said South Korea suggested holding the U.S.-North summit in Panmunjom, Kim said he wondered why South Korea wanted to play more than its role.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 23, Page 30