TOKYO – When President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un meet in Singapore next month, assuming they stay on track, long enough to let it happen, they have two very different agendas.
Washington has raised the bar for the top of a very high complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. Pyongyang, meanwhile, has a fairly large order of itself: the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, with the condition that the “hostile policy of the U.S. in the direction of their country must be first an end.
Sure, the bridging of that gap will be, an achievement in itself. Both leaders and opt instead for a “shiny object summit,” a meeting that is heavier on the photo ops and TV-friendly sound bites than on the long-term change.
But what if they really go for a deal?
Here are a few of the possibilities can be explored:
THE HANDING OVER OF A NUMBER OF ABOUT
Reports, although speculative and anonymously sourced, are popping up that Kim is willing to hand over some of its nuclear weapons as a sign of sincerity.
As far as theater to go, this would be hard to top.
It would be a tangible, dramatic move that could happen very quickly — factors that would certainly appeal to the reality TV show side of Trump. It may even be big enough to earn him a shot at that Nobel Peace prize he says everyone is talking about.
Strange as it sounds, something like this was what the national security adviser John Bolton had in mind when he suggested the Libya model as a good example for North Korea to follow. After Libya unilaterally decided to give up its fledgling nuclear program in 2003, planeloads of documents, equipment and even centrifuges in connection with the country of the nuclear and missile programmes were transported by U.S. military aircraft of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
But given the way that leader Muammar Gadhafi was deposed and killed, a few years later, Pyongyang turned out to be Bolton’s suggestion, almost ancient the summit itself. Arms control experts have also noted that, in contrast to Libya, the North is already a nuclear power. So the Libya-model is really not fit.
There are other problems, too.
North Korea is assumed to be several tens of nuclear weapons, so the hand of a few as spectacular as that would be — would not really be something to fix, unless further agreements are made about what to do with the rest. At the same time, for the North, it would be a huge and painful concession.
Nuclear weapons are secret for a reason. The even give a potential reveal the details of the design and the technology that the North of the military would rather keep to themselves.
CAP AND FREEZE
Kim has already promised to stop with the launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles and conducting nuclear tests. He even made a big show of the demolition of tunnels at the Punggye-ri, the North is known only from the underground testing site.
That is a start.
But North Korea has announced similar moratoriums for, only to change the mind later. Nothing Kim has done so far is either irreversible or extremely expensive. And the North is still said nothing about the launch of other types of missiles, a major concern for the AMERICAN ally Japan, where many AMERICAN military bases.
So, short of direct denuclearization, the next logical step is for Washington to insist on a ban on the production not only of the bombs themselves, but also of the missiles, and fissile material — the plutonium and highly enriched uranium that can be used to make bombs.
It is very likely that even at the highest levels of the American officials do not know how great the North of the nuclear arsenal is or where the bombs are. They should check that right off the bat, which won’t be easy and will lead to a lot of cooperation from Kim.
They will also need to work on a way to verify that the North is not active anymore, still a challenging task that requires monitoring on the ground and a lot more transparency than Pyongyang is inclined to be comfortable with.
Washington can’t expect everything to happen without something in return. So there should be more give and take, more talk, more exercises in the development of mutual trust and probably a lot more problems and possible deal-breaking disputes along the way.
And that is if everything goes well. But never yet has.
PHASING THEM OUT
The end of the game here is to Trump with the goal of total denuclearization, but with the amenities that North Korea time to meet.
Nuclear physicist Siegfried Hecker and Robert Carlin, two of the top experts on North Korea’s nuclear program, and how to negotiate with Pyongyang, together with another researcher, Elliot Serbin, for the preparation of such a plan for the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.
Their roadmap released on Monday, lays out three stages over a total range of 10 years.
It starts in essence with the cap and freeze in the first year, a roll-back phase of 2-5 years after that and finally the complete elimination or the establishment of a mutually acceptable borders of what is left.
Together with the steps Kim has already announced, the report suggests, North Korea should “frontload” its efforts to demonstrate its commitment. Pyongyang could, for example, the quick shutdown of the plutonium production of the reactor. Washington should try to be the first access to the nuclear centrifuge facility in Yongbyon and demand the cessation of operations at the uranium chemical processing facilities.
Hecker and Carlin much of its credibility.
Hecker was director of Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1986 to 1997, has visited the North seven times, and inspect the nuclear facilities of the first hand. Carlin has worked as an analyst for both the Ministry of foreign affairs and the CIA, and is widely regarded as one of the top North Korea experts in the world.
In the end, no matter what detours or bumps lie ahead, they believe that a phased approach is the only realistic way forward.
“To insist on immediate support cvid along a ‘Libya model’ to eliminate all front and all at once comes down on a North Korean surrender scenario,” they wrote in the report, with the acronym for “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation.”
“The suggestion of the shipping industry in the North of the nuclear weapons of the country is also naive and dangerous,” they wrote.
There are no quick fixes, in other words.
Talmadge is the AP’s Pyongyang bureau chief. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter: @EricTalmadge