North Korea is bristling at American verification demands for the dismantling of its nuclear program, but one prominent expert believes the Trump administration’s hardball tactics got Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table and will likely lead to him truly abandoning his nukes as well.
Over the weekend, North Korea accused Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of engaging in “gangster” tactics for making a number of unilateral demands for North Korean disarmament.
The negotiations themselves followed international reports that North Korea was upgrading its primary enrichment site at Yongbyon and two other facilities. There is also evidence that North Korea is moving forward with its ballistic missile program.
Population Research Institute President Steven Mosher doesn’t see North Korean cheating as evidence that the deal is collapsing but as proof the Trump administration intends to see the entire nuclear program reduced to rubble.
“I think the Trump administration is leaking intelligence reports to the media in order to put Kim Jong Un on notice that we are watching,” said Mosher.
“We’re putting Kim and his people on notice that if they do not tell us exactly where all the missile launch and manufacturing sites are, all the centrifuges are, all the nuclear sites, all the nukes they may have in storage somewhere,” said Mosher.
And despite the North Korean pushback on Trump’s tactics, Mosher is confident Kim will ultimately comply.
“My guess is that he is (going to go along with nuclear disarming). I hope he understands that the sanctions will not be lifted unless he denuclearizes. He knows, I think, that the president has his number. I think that’s why the U.S. has the upper hand in these negotiations,” said Mosher.
Mosher says Trump caught Kim off guard by not communicating in the same manner as his predecessors. He says Trump’s threatening Kim with “fire and fury” and comparing the sizes of their nuclear buttons appears to have rattled Kim.
He also asserts that Trump promising to help revitalize the North Korean economy once the nukes are gone is a major attraction for Kim. But even if all of that happens, Mosher says the Kim regime’s days are numbered.
“[Trump] made clear in Singapore that he can make life in North Korea much easier. Kim Jong Un can stay in power. His economy can develop and his people will be much better off.
“Now think about his other options. I believe we’ll see other steps taken to lock up the North Korean regime inside the hermit kingdom that it really is. That will eventually lead to the collapse of the regime,” said Mosher.
One of the other options is for Kim to demonstrate the power of his arsenal with a desperate pre-emptive strike on the U.S. or one our allies in the region. Mosher says that would be a colossal mistake.
“If he tries some sort of pre-emptive strike against the South, that would only accelerate this process. He would be driven back. The Chinese would be forced to intervene again. He would be signing his death warrant and all but inviting China to absorb his half-kingdom,” said Mosher.
Even though China keeps North Korea afloat economically, there’s no great love for the Chinese in Pyongyang. Mosher points out that the government forces women impregnated by Chinese men to undergo abortions so as not to pollute the race.
But China is another reason Mosher thinks Kim will eventually play ball and get rid of his nuclear program. He says Trump has China in a position of weakness as well.
“We’ve caught China cheating on the sanctions a half dozen times already. We caught them cheating on land when the trucks and the trains were still going into North Korea carrying Chinese goods. We caught them at see when they were doing at-sea fuel transfers and goods transfers. Satellite photos showed they were Chinese ships doing the cheating.
“And we caught them again just a couple of weeks ago, when Chinese businesses were rushing into North Korea, anticipating the lifting of the sanctions. We said, ‘Wait a minute. The sanctions are still in place.’ Beijing has ordered all the companies and their representatives back to China,” said Mosher.
Mosher says China is also cautious about flouting sanctions due to the resurgent American economy.
“The American economy may grow faster than the Chinese economy this year. They’re claiming six percent growth but that probably a 30 percent exaggeration. The real growth is about four percent. They have an aging population because of the one-child policy, a shrinking workforce.
“They have huge government corruption and they have off the books debt that is just enormous, probably 300 percent of GDP,” said Mosher.
So what are the demands that have North Korea so upset over the past few days? Mosher hopes Pompeo is leaving no wiggle room for Kim to cheat on his promises.
“You have to have verified, irreversible denuclearization of North Korea. We have to have American teams of inspectors going in there, unrestricted by any conditions of when you can visit a site and how often you can visit a site and where you can go.
“We’ve denuclearized countries before. We went into Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union and de-nuked that country in a couple of years. We know how to do it if we have access,” said Mosher.
If North Korea fails to allow that kind of access or reneges on its promises, Mosher says the consequences should be severe.
“I think the sanctions can be tightened even further. We have to make sure that China’s not cheating. Russia needs to be sidelined as well. They’re both spoilers. They’ve violated the sanctions regime in the past. If we’re not watching and putting pressure on them, they’ll violate the sanctions regime in the future.
“I think we also have to ask countries to send the North Korean workers home who are working in their countries. That’s a big source of revenue for Pyongyang,” said Mosher.
He also says the U.S. could put the North Korean economy in a vise grip to compel compliance.
“Finally, I think we need to consider blockading North Korean ports to stop North Korean trade through the oceans. If we do that, we can then sit back and watch the North Korean economy gradually grind to a halt. That, if anything, will bring Kim Jong Un back to the negotiating table to get serious this time,” added Mosher.