President Trump says he will “talk denuclearization” at his planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — a word he has emphasized to underscore the tough line he plans to take in the most surprising foreign policy development of his presidency.
But the diplomatic buzzword can mean different things to different players on the world stage. The success of Trump’s gambit probably hangs on whether he and Kim can agree on what it means for them and whether it’s worthwhile to keep fudging the details of a term that U.S. and Asian diplomats have been fudging for years.
The unwieldy term is typically part of a stock phrase, “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” that U.S. officials have used for more than a decade to mean that North Korea would abandon its nuclear weapons.
Those weapons are the main leverage that North Korea holds, whether it sits down to bargain or not, and Kim has publicly declared that he will never give them up.
For him, denuclearization probably means, at most, some far-off possibility that he will downsize or get rid of his country’s nuclear arsenal, which he can dangle as leverage for help averting economic catastrophe and shoring up his family dynasty, Asia experts said. To Kim, it may also mean assurances that the United States won’t replace the nuclear weapons it pulled out of South Korea more than 25 years ago. It could even mean the end of the large deployment of U.S. forces there.
“As a long-term objective, I believe it will be acceptable” to Kim, especially if left a bit undefined at the start, said Wit, a senior fellow at the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.