WASHINGTON: North Korea’s test firing this morning of two short-range missiles is not an an obstacle to the Trump Administration’s efforts to reach a denuclearization agreement with Pyongyang, says Rep. Mike Turner, top Republican on the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.
“In looking at the recent news of the missiles that have been shot by North Korea, I don’t see this as a significant setback. The fact that we have had a significant period of time in which there has not been activity is a greater signal than these missiles,” Turner told the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies this morning. He added that there is still “a significant opportunity for the United States to come to the table and negotiate with North Korea and at least begin the steps to take the program back.”
North Korea launched two short-range missiles that landed in the Sea of Japan. One of the missiles, according to CNN, likely is of a new variety that flew very low, and very fast — perhaps presenting a first-strike threat. It is the first North Korean missile test since Trump’s meeting with Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un late last month. It also comes as National Security Advisor — and North Korea hawk — John Bolton was visiting South Korea. It followed Pyongyang’s protests about planned US-South Korean exercises early next month. North Korea has said that the exercises violate its agreement with Washington, and may lead to a resumption of nuclear weapons and ICBM tests.
Nevertheless, Turner praised President Donald Trump’s unorthodox approach to negotiations with North Korea, which included an unprecedented photo-op shaking hands with Kim in the Demilitarized Zone on June 30. “I think the fact that the meeting happened in the Demilitarized Zone is more important than any single launching of missiles,” he said, adding that progress has been made toward a deal.
The fact that Kim has publicly made a statement that he has a “policy of denuclearization” is a “huge step” toward reaching a deal, Turner said. In particular, he noted that it “means China has approved” Kim’s statement — and thus may now be more serious about urging the North Koreans to reach a deal.
Long-time arms control advocates and North Korea experts beg to differ. First of all, these experts say, North Korea did not pledge to give up its nuclear weapons. Instead, “North Korea uses the phrase ‘denuclearization of the Korean peninsula’ — but that phrase is mostly about an end to US nuclear threats to North Korea,” says Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Project at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies at Monterey.
“US officials have continued to assert that means ‘disarm North Korea’. … [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo often says “denuclearization of North Korea,” Lewis says, prompting “North Korea to release a statement [last December] saying that he needs to take a geography lesson. Literally.”
Kingston Reif of the Arms Control Association said that North Korea has repeatedly made a pledge to support a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. Not, of course, that anything has come of it.
Turner himself admits that he is a “skeptic” about North Korea’s intentions to denuclearize, but also says he remains hopeful that the Trump Administration can make more progress.
“I don’t believe that Kim Jong-un has any intention of abandoning his nuclear weapons, and I think it’s going to take a serious amount of effort in order to be able to accomplish denuclearization, verify denuclearization and to ensure that North Korea is not a significant threat to South Korea,” he said. However, he added: “I think it is very possible to continue steps where we have successes.”
As Breaking D readers know, the top intelligence official charged with assessing North Korea said two years ago that the Hermit Kingdom, “does not intend to negotiate those capabilities away at any price.” There’s little public reason to believe that Intelligence Community assessment has changed.