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No assurances on CVID

June 21,2018
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U.S. President Donald Trump answers questions on the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at a press conference at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island on June 12 in Singapore. [AP/YONHAP]
Kim Hyun-ki
*The author is the Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

After the U.S.-North Korea summit on June 12, I found the 90-minute press conference with Trump shocking. One foreign correspondent stationed in Washington said it was horrible. When a friend asked me about my opinion on the relationship between Korea and Trump, I didn’t have much to say.

A week after the press conference, what are we left with? I still have many questions in mind, and the answers are vague. Here are three key questions.

The most curious question is why Trump made a unilateral concession. At first, he said he would give gifts in return for a “one-shot” denuclearization process. Then he changed his position and offered a gift first and asked Kim to show “good will.” Trump did not mention a timeline, roadmap or a method of verification for denuclearization. I thought he also made the mistake of calling the Korea-U.S. joint military exercise “provocative.” Upon returning to the United States, Trump reiterated what he said, calling the annual joint drills “very provocative” this time.

To Trump, money is of the highest value. Alliance is low in his list of priorities. In his interview with Fox News on June 15, he said that what he does best is trade. Money may be the biggest reason to build a “hotline” between the leaders of North Korea and the United States by making concessions and sending praises to Kim Jong-un.

Trump could not start a full trade war with China before the summit because he needed to get Beijing’s cooperation in North Korean affairs. After the summit, however, Trump announced $50 billion and 25 percent tariffs on imports from China only 50 hours after returning from Singapore followed by an additional $200 billion and 10 percent tariffs five days later. It is an expression of his newly earned confidence. To Trump, the biggest weapon for the November midterm elections is trade, not denuclearization.

My second question is the joint declaration on June 12. I wondered whether they omitted things they could have included. Trump said that he received a spoken promise on the destruction of a missile engine test site. If so, they should have postponed signing the agreement so that promise could have been included. In Washington, there are rumors that there could have been an intercontinental ballistic missile-related (ICBM) deal. They suspect that a deal was made, but not made public as Trump could be criticized for only reaching some agreements on ICBM, not denuclearization and mid- and short-range missiles.

My third question involves U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s remarks on complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID). Even 15 hours before the meeting, he knew that would not happen, Then, why did he say that the only results the United States could accept was CVID? Did North Korea change the deal in the last minute? Was there an internal situation that he could not reveal? When a reporter asked about why the words “verifiable and irreversible” were not included in the agreement in Seoul the next day, Pompeo said, “I find that question insulting and ridiculous and, frankly, ludicrous.” The reporter may have hurt Pompeo’s pride, but his answer was certainly ludicrous.

I still have some more questions. What are optimists in Korea going to say? They were the ones who first advocated exchanging CVID with complete, verifiable and irreversible guarantee (CVIG) of regime security. Now they claim that building trust is more important because CVID is an impossible goal. Finally, why didn’t South Korean foreign and defense ministers say anything when Trump called the Korea-U.S. joint drill “provocative” in the press conference broadcasted worldwide?

JoongAng Ilbo, June 20, Page 30