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Substance is key

July 05,2018
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives in Pyongyang today to negotiate the denuclearization of North Korea. The visit is overdue. In the June 12 summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore, the two men agreed to hold a follow-up meeting as soon as possible to tackle the issue. That’s why we expected Pyongyang to take tangible steps toward denuclearization. But it took 23 days until Pompeo traveled to Pyongyang again.

North Korea did not take any substantial action in regards to denuclearization except for blowing up a nuclear test site in Punggye-ri in May. That was nearly three weeks before the historic meeting between Trump and Kim took place. As a result, U.S. media outlets are increasingly raising the suspicion that North Korea is hiding another uranium enrichment facility called Kangsong rather than putting an end to the nuclear drama. Intelligence authorities suspect that the North has been clandestinely producing highly enriched uranium in the Kangsong facility, which may be twice as large as the one in Yongbyon.

That’s not all. A satellite image shows that North Korea is expanding production facilities for a new type of solid fuel-based ballistic missile in Hamhung. Also, there are signs that China is easing UN-imposed sanctions on North Korea to prevent its leverage from being weakened in the process of denuclearization. All the circumstantial evidence makes us doubt Kim’s sincerity about denuclearization.

Pompeo must draw concrete results from his third trip to Pyongyang. Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton recently said the North’s nuclear weapons and missiles could be dismantled within one year. The State Department walked that back, saying it will not insists on such a timetable with North Korea. But that is a powerful card for Uncle Sam to consider.

Many North Korea experts underscore that getting a list of items for dismantlement from Pyongyang is more significant than drafting a timetable. Whether it be a a denuclearization schedule or a dismantlement list, the United State must achieve tangible results. Otherwise, Washington will be dragged into Pyongyang’s signature strategy of procrastination and provocation.

South Korea and the United States must jointly North Korea to promise sincere measures. If Pompeo returns empty handed, the Korean Peninsula could return to the brink of war. No one wants to see that happen again.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 5, Page 30