It didn’t get quite as much notice as his suggestion for protesting NFL players, but Donald Trump’s comments on North Korea held much more significance. In his interview with Fox & Friends‘ Brian Kilmeade, Trump said he preferred an immediate denuclearization of North Korea as the goal of his upcoming summit with Kim Jong-un. However, Trump allowed that it might require more time, suggesting that the US might negotiate a series of steps from both sides — assuming the summit takes place at all:
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) May 24, 2018
The United States might accept a “phase-in” of North Korea’s denuclearization but the dismantling of Kim Jong Un’s nuclear program must progress “rapidly,” President Trump said in an interview broadcast Thursday.
“We’re going to see. I’d like to have it done immediately,” Trump said on “Fox & Friends” on Fox News. “But, you know, physically, a phase-in may be a little bit necessary, we will have to do a rapid phase in, but I’d like to see it done at one time.”
Speaking of the summit taking place …
North Korea said Wednesday that it is up to the United States to decide whether it wants to “meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown.”
Their lips say fight fight fight, but their actions say — well, that’s tough to say, too. As promised, North Korea set off explosives in the tunnels of Punggye-ri, as witnessed by journalists from around the world. CBS covered it exclusively for the US, with Ben Tracy confirming that he saw the tunnels for himself, but he also notes that his expertise is limited:
Now the North Koreans brought a small group of media there for a very specific purpose. They wanted to show that they were decommissioning, that they were destroying this nuclear test site. So what they did is they blew up the three remaining test tunnels at that site. They claimed two of the tunnels were still usable, that they could have conducted further tests there, but they put in explosives and blew them up.
Before they did that, they opened up the tunnels. We were able to walk right up to them, see the explosives inside. Then they removed us to viewing stands farther away and blew them up.
They then told us to walk back up towards the tunnel to see it in person, to verify that indeed it had been closed. The problem is, we’re journalists. We’re not nuclear experts. So there was no one on site, no outside expert, to verify that what North Korea claims it has done – closing its nuclear test site – has actually occurred.
We did ask our government minder if they’re going to allow somebody in to do that, and he said he doesn’t think so because they don’t feel that they need somebody else to say that they’ve done what they say they have now done.
The North Koreans likely had other motives in bringing the journalists out there. The question isn’t so much whether closing those tunnels made the site unusable as much as it is whether it was already rendered unusable. Tracy states that they made a point of demonstrating that it still could be accessed as a way of arguing that they’re making a grand concession of their own, but it’s now widely thought that the internal structure of the mountain above the testing site has collapsed, rendering it either inaccessible, prone to venting radiation, or both. That may be one reason they don’t want experts anywhere near Punggye-ri.
At least they got some use out of it. They may have effectively given up nothing for nothing more than a photo op, but the Kim regime could use some good press. They’re certainly getting it this morning, with all major outlets offering up headlines noting their claims to have destroyed their nuclear-testing facility.
As for Trump’s concession, that’s significant but not surprising. Denuclearization requires several “phases” whether one wants to explicitly cite them or not. At the very least, verification has to take place in “phases.” The significance of these comments is in Trump’s signal of flexibility on process, but not on outcomes. North Korea will want some economic aid to flow immediately as a result of initial cooperation on denuclearization, but the US will be very stingy as long as they still have nuclear weapons in their inventory. That may be the first major sticking point, and Trump’s telling them that the US will be willing to work with them. We’ll see if that prompts any retorts from Pyongyang, or perhaps more preferably, radio silence.