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Trump takes Kim’s New Year’s address optimistically

Jan 03,2019
U.S. President Donald Trump said he is looking forward to a second summit with the North Korean leader in a quick response to Kim Jong-un’s overtures of peace in his New Year’s address Tuesday.

Trump tweeted: “‘Kim Jong Un says North Korea will not make or test nuclear weapons, or give them to others - & he is ready to meet President Trump anytime,’” citing PBS NewsHour’s coverage of Kim’s annual Jan. 1 address, which sets Pyongyang’s policy for the year and was closely monitored internationally.

“I also look forward to meeting with Chairman Kim who realizes so well that North Korea possesses great economic potential!” continued Trump in the tweet, which was Washington’s first response to Kim’s speech, coming within 24 hours of the address.

Kim, in an English translation of his address released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency, said, “I am ready to meet the U.S. president again anytime, and will make efforts to obtain without fail results which can be welcomed by the international community.”

Kim also described a “firm will to establish a new bilateral relationship that meets the demand of the new era” and “build a lasting and durable peace regime and advance towards complete denuclearization,” as stated in the North Korea-U.S. joint statement signed at the June 12 summit in Singapore.

In his speech, Kim said that he declared domestically and internationally that North Korea would “neither make [or] test nuclear weapons any longer nor use and proliferate them,” and that practical measures have been taken in this direction.

Kim went on to indicate that if Washington responds “with trustworthy measures and corresponding practical actions,” he would take “more definite and epochal measures.” Kim has already offered the permanent dismantlement of certain key nuclear and missile facilities under international observation depending on corresponding measures from Washington.

The U.S. State Department and National Security Council have thus far declined to comment on Kim’s New Year’s address.

Nonetheless, diplomatic observers consider the messaging between Kim and Trump from the start of the year a positive signal following weeks of impasse in the North-U.S. denuclearization negotiations. Pyongyang has not responded to Washington’s offers for high-level and working-level meetings.

Kim, in his speech, also said that that if Washington persists in imposing sanctions and putting economic pressure on his country, he “may be compelled to find a new way for defending the sovereignty of the country.”

Analysts have pointed out that another summit in itself is significant but that it is important that a second Kim-Trump meeting produces some substantive results.

Trump has said previously that a second summit with Kim is in the works for January or February, and that three venues are being considered. Working level meetings between the North and the United States will be necessary to fine-tune not only the date, location and other logistics but set an agenda for a second summit.

“I think Kim is building a narrative to say, ‘We may, at some point, stop producing nuclear weapons or stop augmenting our nuclear stockpiles if the United States signs a peace treaty with us,’” Victor Cha, a Georgetown University professor and Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank, told PBS NewsHour on Tuesday. But the North still wants to be accepted as a “responsible nuclear weapons state.”

Cha added that a second North-U.S. summit is an opportunity “to try to jump-start” what was agreed to in the first summit.

“We’re ending up at a point now where we need a summit meeting to try to keep the diplomacy going,” said Cha, also a former director of Asian affairs on the National Security Council staff during the George W. Bush administration. “And the good part about that is, if you get the leaders to agree, then maybe you can make real progress. The bad part is that, if they cannot agree, then the diplomacy, by definition, fails.”

Despite calls by Pyongyang for an easing of sanctions, U.S. lawmakers are maintaining the pressure campaign on the North.

This could put a damper on future inter-Korean cooperation projects, especially as Kim in his New Year’s address said he is willing to resume operations of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang tourism “without any precondition and in return for nothing.”

The Voice of America (VOA) on Wednesday quoted Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat of Maryland, as saying that “there’s been a lot of leakage in the economic sanctions regime.” Likewise, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado told the VOA, “I’m committed to pushing every avenue possible to continue the maximum pressure doctrine.”

Gardner has been pushing for a bipartisan bill, the LEED Act, to impose an economic and diplomatic embargo against North Korea and its enablers and to authorize efforts to combat Pyongyang’s widespread human rights and labor trafficking abuses.

The Otto Warmbier Banking Restrictions Involving North Korea Act, or Brink Act, is another piece of legislation that would sanction third-country banks and companies that facilitate illicit financial transactions for North Korea.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]