The return of the hawk

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The return of the hawk

*The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton has returned with confidence. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that there would be no timeline for denuclearization, but Bolton gave Pompeo a guideline for follow-up negotiations to set a one-year time limit. He said, “I’m sure that [Pompeo] will be discussing this with the North Koreans in the near future about really how to dismantle all of their WMD and ballistic missile programs in a year.”

So much has changed from June 1, when Bolton was nervously watching Vice Chairman of the Workers’ Party Kim Yong-chol through a window during his White House visit.

After the June 12 summit in Singapore, U.S. President Donald Trump declared that North Korea’s nuclear threat was gone. Bolton moved quietly. He has replaced the National Security Council (NSC)’s senior director for weapons of mass destruction Andrea Hall, who led the taskforce for North Korea’s denuclearization, with Major General Julie Bentz. She has a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering and has served in the NSC three times, including the post of the director of nuclear defense policy. It was the expert group led by Bentz that came up with the one-year weapons of mass destruction (WMD) dismantlement plan for North Korea.

Also, Anthony Ruggiero, a senior researcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who had traced and frozen Kim Jong-il’s slush fund in Banco Delta Asia (BDA) in Macau in 2005, was appointed to the newly established post of NSC director of North Korea issues. Ruggiero criticized the Singapore agreement, saying that it was a revision of the negotiations that were dropped a decade ago. He is a sanctions expert who argues that financial pressure should be increased, including through large Chinese banks, to make Pyongyang abandon its nuclear program. While Bolton is no longer talking about the “Libya model” or “maximum pressure policy,” his recent moves suggest that he is up to the same old tricks.

Bolton has gained traction because the follow-up measures that North Korea promised in Singapore — such as repatriating the remains of U.S. troops that fell during the Korean War and the dismantlement of the Dongchang-ri missile test site — haven’t actually happened yet. A diplomatic source said that returning the remains would require considerable preparation and negotiation, but things have gotten complicated as Trump already said they were coming in days. It means it would take more time for the North to send them back.

As Trump is impatient, he is fretting over the outcome of discussions with the North as various domestic and international issues such as immigration, trade and a tariff war have grown in the 20 days since the meeting. Pompeo has given a letter to Kim Yong-chol personally, urging Pyongyang to fulfill the agreements, and Trump’s patience may be running out. A more fundamental problem is whether Washington and Pyongyang can agree on a denuclearization roadmap of reporting, verification and dismantlement.

If recent denuclearization moves don’t go to plan, Bolton may step out from the sidelines to take Pompeo’s place. They represent Trump’s two faces.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 3, Page 30
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