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Trump content with slow roll on North Korea

President’s assessment contrasts hard-liners who want quick fix
July 19,2018
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday in Washington that there was “no time limit” or need for speed in the process of dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, an assessment he has been pushing recently as talks have slowed with Pyongyang.

His remarks indicate Washington is pulling back from the demand of North Korea’s quick denuclearization, a stance pushed by hard-liners in his administration. Analysts see Trump’s statements as a tactic to ease Pyongyang back into negotiations.

“Discussions are ongoing and they’re going very, very well,” Trump told reporters at the White House ahead of a meeting with members of Congress. “We have no rush for speed. We have no time limit. We have no speed limit. We’re just going through the process.”

His assessment contrasts one by John Bolton, his national security adviser, who said that the bulk of North Korea’s weapons could be dismantled within a year, if North Korea makes the decision to denuclearize. However, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who visited Pyongyang three times, most recently in early July, has been hesitant to publicly put a timeline on denuclearization.

Trump said North Korea was a major topic of discussion when he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their first summit in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday.

“President Putin said he agrees with me 100 percent, and they’ll do whatever they have to do to try and make it happen,” referring to the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons. He noted that the United States and Russia have 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons and said, “We could have a big impact” on nonproliferation. Describing the relationship with North Korea as “very good,” Trump added that “President Putin is going to be involved in the sense that he is with us.”

In the meantime, though, sanctions will remain, Trump said. He continued to praise the process, pointing to the return of three Korean-Americans detained in North Korea and lack of nuclear and missile tests from the North in the past nine months.

Some analysts say Trump may simply be falling for North Korea’s delay tactics in denuclearization talks, though there appears to be some progress in the repatriation of remains from the 1950-53 Korean War.

The United States is expecting North Korea to return the first group of remains of soldiers killed during the war on July 27, a U.S. official told CNN on Wednesday. Returning remains was one of the commitments in the joint statement that Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signed at their historic summit in June.

Working-level talks at the border village of Panmunjom on Monday focused on the repatriation of U.S. prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action. The U.S. side plans to deliver transit caskets by truck to the demilitarized zone, a U.S. official told Stars and Stripes, the American military newspaper, on Tuesday, and expects the North Koreans to return remains in those cases.

The team will then fly them out to Osan Air Base in South Korea or Hawaii, according to the official.

North Korea last returned the remains of U.S. soldiers in 2007.

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