White House National Security Advisor John Bolton said in an interview with Fox News on Sunday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promised South Korean President Moon Jae-in at Panmunjom on April 27 that he would denuclearize within a year. Bolton went on to say that if the North makes a strategic decision to give up nuclear weapons, it can do it within a year. His remarks are thought to be based upon the dialogue content shared by the South Korean government following the inter-Korean summit at Panmunjom. The security advisor may have intended to emphasize that Kim was the first who mentioned the deadline for denuclearization, which he also commented on July 1.
Let us say that it is the case. North Korea has not taken any action regarding denuclearization for more than 100 days since the two Koreas met at Panmunjom. This implies that it has yet to make strategic decisions to give up nuclear weapons. The North’s inaction is the result of a mix of the recent developments – Kim’s three rounds of visits to China between March and June, the following lessening of sanctions around the border area between the North and China, and the South’s attitude that seems to put the improvement of the inter-Korean relations above denuclearization.
Even with Pyongyang’s lacking sincerity toward denuclearization, the Moon Jae-in administration made a request to the United States and the United Nations regarding exemption from sanctions, with the aim of enabling inter-Korean exchange and cooperation. Furthermore, it has recently been busying itself with attempts to resume the operation of the Kaesong Industrial Complex as well as tourism at Mt. Kumgang. Added to this, the ARF chairman’s statement dated on Sunday did not mention Complete, Verifiable, Irreversible Dismantlement (CVID), which was included up until last year. It is highly questionable whether the South Korean government did make a proper effort to insist on the inclusion of CVID in the statement. Not only with that, controversy has recently been stirred over the South’s violation of North Korea sanctions as it has been alleged to abet North Korean coal imports.
The South Korean presidential office Cheong Wa Dae has not made any remarks regarding Kim Jong Un’s mentioning of the one-year deadline for denuclearization since the Panmunjom summit was held. The administration seems to have been concerned that expectations could go up rapidly about denuclearization, and pressure on the North could rise, too. Nevertheless, if it is true that Kim mentioned the particular deadline for denuclearization for the first time, the fact in itself is of great significance and gravity. The remark is now released to the public anyway. Then, the next thing to do is to make a concerted effort to accelerate Kim’s strategic decision. The only driver for this is maintaining strong U.S.-R.O.K. alliance and tight sanctions. The Trump administration has stressed that the door to dialogue is left open, but that meaningful denuclearization measures should precede the war-ending declaration and the lifting of sanctions. Likewise, Seoul should make Pyongyang realize that it will see fundamental changes unfold as it has aspired, such as the removal of sanctions and the provision of economic assistance as well as inter-Korean economic cooperation, only when denuclearization comes first.