Amid intense attention to the historic meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, optimists and skeptics alike have questions about the next step.
The two leaders’ meeting in Singapore was not expected to reach a major breakthrough.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week the administration would seek progress toward a formal treaty to be ratified by the Senate.
That would make it more difficult for a future president to unravel a deal, as Trump unraveled President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal. It also would provide assurance to Kim that the United States won’t pursue regime change after his country does away with its arsenal.
A treaty also means contentious debate abroad and at home.
“It will really have to be substantial, with almost everything we hoped for, to get Senate confirmation,” Alexander Vershbow, ambassador to South Korea from 2005 to 2008, told The Daily Signal. “If they draw up a treaty, the Senate will want it airtight.”
Here are the six of the big questions remaining:
1. How to Define ‘Denuclearization’?
A United Nations resolution and U.S. policy call for “complete, verifiable, irreversible, dismantlement” of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
U.S. experts agree that Trump must stand firm on some version of this in an agreement that would guarantee Kim remains in power and lifts economic sanctions on the communist regime.
“The president can’t walk away from the Iran deal and then reach a deal with North Korea that isn’t verifiable and irreversible denuclearization,” retired Army Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, a former deputy undersecretary for intelligence at the Defense Department, told The Daily Signal.
“We need to let Kim know that we consider his nuclear program an existential threat to the United States and are willing to use all available means to oppose it,” Boykin said. “Kim will relay to the president that he needs a security guarantee to let the nuclear arsenal go, so he is secure the United States is not interested in regime change.”
However, the guarantee that the U.S. will not support regime change may not be enough, Vershbow said.
“Some people believe Kim may have had his Deng Xiaoping moment,” said Vershbow, the former ambassador, referring to the communist China leader who succeeded the more brutal Mao Zedong and brought market reforms while maintaining authoritarian rule.
“But the official ideology is that they must rule over all of Korea and that the South is illegitimate,” Vershbow said. “The question is how different will Kim Jong Un be from his father and grandfather?”
Defining denuclearization will be a major difficulty, said Bruce Klingner, a former Korea expert with the CIA who is senior research fellow for northeast Asia at The Heritage Foundation.
“This should include short-range and medium-range ballistic missiles that threaten allies South Korea and Japan,” Klingner said in a public statement. “North Korea has demonstrated for decades that [it] has vastly different definitions of such terms as denuclearization and even what comprises the ‘Korean Peninsula.’”
2. What Language Is Needed for a Long-Term Deal?
In any agreement, North Korea must “publicly, explicitly, and unequivocally accept and commit to work toward the U.N.-required abandonment” of its nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs, Klingner said.
“Any new agreement with North Korea has to be very specific and go beyond what has been written in the past,” he said. “It should be similar to the carefully crafted text, with robust verification requirements, of arms control treaties with the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact rather than the vague text of previous agreements with North Korea.”
In the six-party talks joint statement from September 2005, North Korea pledged nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and to grant access to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning at an early date to the treaty on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and to IAEA safeguards,” the statement said.
Vershbow came to his job at a time when the six-party talks seemed promising, only to have North Korea—then under the rule of Kim Jong Il—back out and restart nuclear testing.
“I’ve seen this movie before, but it might have a different ending this time, one that confounds the skeptics,” Vershbow said of the Singapore summit.
3. Will US Troops Leave South Korea? If So, When?
The current Kim regime wants the United States to withdraw its troops from South Korea.
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