Will the brutal communist dictatorship of North Korea set aside nuclear weapons and try to change?
North Korea has duped the West before with promises of reform, but things seem a little different this time.
For starters, North Korea has made real progress in building a better relationship with South Korea. The Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula officially ended the Korean War last April and started the important — and long-awaited — push toward denuclearization.
When President Donald Trump shook hands with Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12, it was a moment few could have imagined.
The president has been characteristically eager to applaud himself. "We've established a very good relationship. We're given no credit for it," Trump said last week at a Cabinet meeting. "Frankly, if this administration didn't take place ... you'd be at war right now. You'd be having a nice big fat war in Asia." The president said he would like to meet Kim again either this month or in February.
The North Korean leader, for his part, sounds willing to continue to move away from the darkness, and toward the light.
Daily English-language newspaper The Korean Herald reported on the dictator's annual New Year's address broadcast on Korean Central Television. Kim called 2018 a "year of stirring events that witnessed a dramatic change unprecedented in the history of national division spanning more than seven decades." And he said he is ready to do more.
He called for greater foreign investment. He spoke of renovating and reconnecting the North's railways to the South. He said he supports the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which depends on South Korean investment, and promoted the idea of reviving a tourism zone on the North's Diamond Mountain, resuming both projects "without any preconditions or price." (As the Herald mentioned, however, this resumption "would most likely violate the international sanctions that remain in place.")
As for relations with the United States, he echoed Trump's interest in holding a new summit. "I am ready to sit face-to-face with the U.S. president again at any time going forward and will make efforts to produce an outcome the international community would welcome."
He did clothe all of this in a threat: He would "find a new path" if the United States continued its approach of applying political pressure and maintaining sanctions.
What should we make of all this?
North Korea's long record of duplicity renders trust impossible. Some analysts believe Kim is playing Trump for a fool, attempting to relieve the pressure of economic sanctions while secretly building up his nuclear arsenal. The United States should hold firm on sanctions while striving for denuclearization. China, North Korea's puppet master, must understand a nuclear North Korea is unacceptable to America and its Asian allies.
Still, the conciliatory tone of Kim on New Year's Day was welcome. It is a relief that the dictatorship is no longer testing bombs, firing missiles over Japan and threatening U.S. territories. Most Americans would like to see the North Korean people become much more prosperous and much less oppressed. Peace would be far superior to the nuclear knife-edge Kim seemed hellbent on pursuing a short time ago.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD