The White House is gearing up for President Trump to discuss denuclearization with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at their much anticipated summit next month. But what does “denuclearization” mean?
It depends on whom you are asking. To some in Washington, “the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” as Trump tweeted late last month, means Kim handing over his nuclear weapons and missile systems and allowing international inspectors to check that the regime is keeping its word.
To Pyongyang, it means something very, very different. It means mutual steps to get rid of nuclear weapons, including requiring the United States to take down the nuclear umbrella it has put up over South Korea and Japan.
That is a difference in definition that could toll a death knell for the summit before it even starts.
“The danger is entering into negotiations with unrealistic expectations that Kim is just going to hand over the keys to his nuclear kingdom. He won’t,” said Vipin Narang, an expert on nuclear nonproliferation at MIT.
At the very least, Kim would agree to relinquish his weapons only if the United States agreed to end its military alliance with South Korea, in place since the 1950-53 Korean War, Narang said. He would also likely insist the United States end its commitment to “extended deterrence” in South Korea and Japan — its threat of nuclear retaliation if its allies in Asia come under attack from North Korea.