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Steps toward denuclearization necessary before summits, says former North Korean deputy ambassador

Unification Media Group  |  2018-03-20 17:17
Kim Jong Un made clear once again at the 7th Party Congress in 2016 his intentions to establish North Korea as a legitimate and recognized nuclear state. Former North Korean ambassador to the United Kingdom Thae Yong Ho spoke with Unification Media Group about North Korea's nuclear program, noting that there are two core premises to its strategy.

First, he noted, it only took approximately one year after the 2016 Party Congress for the North to announce the "completion" of its nuclear missile program.

This, according to Mr. Thae, was likely intended to induce some level of relief from prolonged international sanctions and to take advantage of the gap between the late 2016 US and late 2017 South Korean presidential elections, together with the interim "vacuum" in US-South Korean relations. Although North Korea brazenly conducted nuclear tests, the US declined to respond with military action. 

Second, Kim Jong Un appears to be following in the footsteps of India and Pakistan in their pathway toward becoming nuclear powers.

Mr. Thae explained that both India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests within a short period of time prior to announcing the cessation of tests, and then waited for recognition and acknowledgement. The international community refused at first, but today both countries are included in the list of recognized nuclear states. The United States also gradually lost interest in demanding the denuclearization of the two states as they ramped up cooperation in the war on terror after 2001. 

Kim Jong Un's current nuclear strategy appears to have two core aspects, according to Mr. Thae.

The first step was improving relations with South Korea in early 2018 while participating in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. The second is to announce a freeze on nuclear weapons tests and appear to work towards a solution to the nuclear issue. The regime may be hoping that the US and South Korea will eventually accept their nuclear status after some time. 

Kim Jong Un's summits with South Korean president Moon Jae In and US President Donald Trump in the coming months are also part of the North's overall nuclear strategy. But US and South Korean officials are both well aware of the stakes. It will be difficult for relations between these countries and North Korea to further improve without substantive efforts to verify denuclearization of the North. 

Mr. Thae stressed that the US and South Korea must understand Kim Jong Un's strategy to achieve legitimate nuclear power status through his current peace offensive, and the allies must insist on verifiable progress towards denuclearization prior to any meeting. With only a month or two remaining, time is of the essence. 
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