During Friday’s summit, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un told South Korea’s President Moon that he is willing to totally abandon nuclear weapons in return for an end to the Korean War and a promise from the United States not to invade.
North Korean officials have long said that their nuclear program was only necessary to deter a US attack. Getting a formal pledge from the US not to invade would achieve that goal, assuming it’s a credible promise. North Korea appears to believe they can get such a promise.
New Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared optimistic too. In comments on ABC’s “This Week,” Pompeo said he believes there is a “real opportunity” for a denuclearization deal with North Korea. He added that conditions are right for such a deal.
National Security Adviser John Bolton was less hopeful, saying the US must hold out for “concrete evidence” of denuclearization. Bolton had long supported attacking North Korea, and has never favored diplomacy to achieve US policy goals.
Whatever cabinet members think, President Trump is the one that’s going to be driving US involvement in the peace process. Trump has been very clear in his support for the diplomatic process, and the upcoming summit with Kim.
Trump has defended the lead-up to the summit in the face of growing media hostility to diplomacy with North Korea. He has also rejected criticism that he’s giving away too much, noting he hasn’t actually given North Korea anything yet, and doesn’t intend to without North Korea scrapping its nuclear arsenal.
Denuclearization for peace, after all, is exactly the grand bargain that the US has sought with North Korea. The South Korean government has gone to great lengths to lay the groundwork for such a deal, and very much wants a deal ending the Korean War. US officials have expressed support for the peace deal, but have emphasized denuclearization as their top priority.
Such a deal would’ve been unthinkable just a few months ago. After growing diplomatic progress, huge deals not only seem possible, but very practical. Everyone is unusually willing to make a deal, and summits are lining up at just the right time to make big things happen.