Some sincerity neededTension is thickening between the United States and North Korea after Washington announced a plan to resume its joint military exercises with South Korea following the cancellation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang. Defense Secretary James Mattis said America will not suspend the joint drills anymore. Washington’s hawkish stance owes much to North Korea. Its vice chairman of the Workers’ Party Kim Yong-chol abruptly sent a letter threatening the United States, in which he said the denuclearization talks can fall apart due to the Trump administration’s hostile policy toward North Korea.
But it is North Korean leader Kim Jong-un who must take responsibility for the deadlock in negotiations. If he had presented a list of nuclear weapons and a timetable for denuclearization, the United States would not be resuming joint drills such as the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian drill.
North Korea always criticizes the joint exercises, a symbol of the decades-old alliance between Seoul and Washington. Pyongyang is afraid of the possibility of the drills turning into a real attack. When South Korean and U.S. fighter jets take off in the drills, North Korea has to fly its own fighter jets at the cost of highly expensive aircraft fuel. That’s why Pyongyang has persistently called for suspension of the drills.
Mattis’ remarks reflect a significant change in the Trump administration’s North Korea policy. Washington will likely return to the strategy of putting maximum pressures on the North. No one knows how the U.S. government will react if the Kim regime does not take action to denuclearize or if it resorts to a provocation.
Kim must not ignore this window of opportunity. If he takes sincere steps toward denuclearization, he can grab the opportunity to feed his people well and develop the economy. In a statement on Tuesday, Pompeo said that the United States can talk with North Korea at any time if Kim is ready to take steps for complete denuclearization.
Even though Seoul pursues rapprochement with Pyongyang through inter-Korean exchanges — including the establishment of a liaison office in Kaesong and cooperation on railways — it can hardly move forward unless Kim denuclearizes first. North Korea must take measures that convince the United States and the rest of the world of its sincerity. Pyongyang should release a list of nuclear weapons or a timetable for denuclearization or consider the idea of shipping 60 to 70 percent of its nuclear bombs to the U.S. or elsewhere.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 30, Page 34