For seven years, Kim Jong-un has pursued an in-your-face strategy for building his nuclear arsenal: detonating blasts underground and firing missiles into the sky, all to send the message that his country’s nuclear buildup is irreversible.
Now he appears to be changing his approach, current and former American intelligence officials say, tailoring it to his reading of the man he met for a few hours three months ago in Singapore: President Trump.
North Korea is making nuclear fuel and building weapons as actively as ever, the publicly available evidence suggests. But he now appears to be borrowing a page from Israel, Pakistan and India: He is keeping quiet about it, conducting no public nuclear demonstrations and creating no crises, allowing Mr. Trump to portray a denuclearization effort as on track.
Mr. Kim’s new forbearance has helped keep a stream of warm words coming from Mr. Trump. A week ago, the president praised Mr. Kim, with whom he says he has forged a special relationship, after the North Korean leader refrained from parading missiles down the streets of Pyongyang during a military celebration.
On Tuesday, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea will visit the North Korean leader in Pyongyang for their third meeting, and over three days the two men are expected to discuss a “peace declaration” that the North has said must precede any further discussion of disarmament.
Looming over the meeting is the post-Singapore stalemate on progress despite Mr. Trump’s new tone of accommodation, including his openness to a second meeting with Mr. Kim. After declaring a year ago that Mr. Kim had to disarm quickly or face “fire and fury,” Mr. Trump now says there is plenty of time.
But even some of the president’s top national security officials privately concede that Mr. Trump’s declaration in June that “there is no longer a nuclear threat” from North Korea was a huge error, because it was taken as a signal by China and Russia that the crisis was over and that they could resume trading with the country.