US vows no let-up on N. Korea ahead of historic Trump-Kim summit
WASHINGTON, (AFP): The United States vowed Friday there would be no let-up of pressure on North Korea until it takes concrete steps to end its nuclear program after Donald Trump agreed to meet Kim Jong Un in a stunning diplomatic gamble.
A day after the bombshell announcement that the US and North Korean leaders would meet before the end of May, Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence said Washington’s efforts to isolate Kim had been vindicated.
While there was no reaction from Kim’s regime, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said news of the summit — announced by his national security advisor on a visit to Washington — was “like a miracle”.
Chinese President Xi Jinping urged the two leaders to begin talks as “soon as possible” and praised Trump’s “positive aspiration” during a phone call with his US counterpart, according to state media.
China has long been North Korea’s most important ally but has been on board with the program of sanctions agreed at the UN.
The announcement triggered a rise in global stock markets while world leaders voiced hope that the summit would deflate tensions that had been building dramatically in recent months.
While some observers questioned the US president’s wisdom in granting Kim a long-standing wish for a summit after only agreeing a temporary halt to its nuclear tests, others said his gamble could be a game changer.
Trump has previously ridiculed Kim as “Little Rocket Man”, slapping wideranging bilateral sanctions on the Pyongyang regime and also leading a drive for international sanctions through the UN.
“North Korea’s desire to meet to discuss denuclearization — while suspending all ballistic missile and nuclear testing — is evidence that President Trump’s strategy to isolate the Kim regime is working,” Pence said in a statement.
The North Koreans “are coming to the table despite the United States making zero concessions and, in close coordination with our allies, we have consistently increased the pressure on the Kim regime.
“Our resolve is undeterred and our policy remains the same: all sanctions remain in place and the maximum pressure campaign will continue until North Korea takes concrete, permanent, and verifiable steps to end their nuclear program.”
Standing in front of the White House on Thursday night, Moon’s National Security Advisor Chung Eui-yong announced the first ever meeting between a US president and a North Korean leader would take place by May.
Chung had recently returned from Pyongyang, where he met Kim who, he said, “expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible.”
– Sanctions remain –
In a notably restrained tweet, Trump hailed “great progress” in the push to persuade Pyongyang to end its nuclear weapons program, adding that “sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was among the world leaders to hail the announcement as a “glimmer of hope,” saying North Korea’s nuclear drive “has been a source of great concern for all of us.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency, which is the UN’s nuclear watchdog, voiced hope that the summit would produce “concrete progress” and a resumption of nuclear inspections which have been suspended for years.
“The IAEA is closely following the recent developments related to the nuclear program of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” the Vienna-based UN body said in a statement.
Pyongyang’s long race to develop a nuclear weapon capable has proved a problem for successive US administrations.
But the alarm bells have been ringing even louder since last July when Pyongyang conducted two intercontinental ballistic missile tests, declaring that the entire United States was now within its range.
– ‘Fire and Fury’ –
Trump then threatened “fire and fury” if Pyongyang continued to threaten the United States only for North Korea to carry out its sixth nuclear test while Kim derided Trump as “mentally deranged”.
The United States and North Korea were foes throughout the Cold War and fought on opposite sides of a bloody war in the 1950s.
In the last two decades, they have been engaged in what is perhaps the world’s most dangerous nuclear standoff, with 30,000 US military personnel stationed just over the border in the South.
On multiple occasions, Kim’s father Kim Jong Il dangled the prospect of talks and denuclearization as a means of buying time, easing sanctions and dividing South Korea from its allies.
Bill Richardson, US ambassador to the United Nations under Bill Clinton’s presidency and a veteran negotiator with North Korea, said the break with previous US policy carried huge risks but was worth a shot.
– ‘The Big Gamble’ –
“I’m on the side of the big gamble. The North Korean situation, the tension in the peninsula has been so intense, this is the worst state of US-North Korea relations, that you almost need a Hail Mary pass,” he told CNN.
“It’s risky, we’ve got to be properly prepared and we cannot underestimate Kim Jong Un…. What we don’t want to do is get trapped in a situation, a high-level negotiation where we’re not prepared.”
The table was set for the announcement Tuesday when South Korea announced the North had stated there was “no reason” to hold on to its nuclear weapons “if military threats towards the North are cleared and the security of its regime is guaranteed.”
In the past North Korea has indicated that security guarantees mean the departure of US forces from the Korean peninsula and the end of a mutual defense treaty with the South.
Moon, who is also due to hold his own summit with Kim, was ebullient.
“The May meeting will be recorded as a historic milestone that realized peace on the Korean Peninsula,” he said.