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North Korea’s New Nuclear Promises Fall Short of U.S. Demands

North Korea’s New Nuclear Promises Fall Short of U.S. Demands

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During a summit meeting between North and South Korea on Wednesday, Kim Jong-un agreed to take steps toward denuclearization and to visit Seoul. He would be the first North Korean leader to make such a trip.Published OnCreditCreditImage by Pyeongyang Press Corps

SEOUL, South Korea — Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, told South Korea’s president on Wednesday that he would commit to some concrete steps toward denuclearization — including an offer to “permanently dismantle” facilities central to fuel production for nuclear warheads. But he made no promises to relinquish his nuclear weapons or missiles.

Mr. Kim’s commitments fell far short of what American officials have demanded — a complete abandonment of the North’s nuclear and missile programs. Nonetheless, President Trump welcomed the agreements, reached during Mr. Kim’s summit meeting in North Korea with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, as “very exciting.”

Speaking on the South Lawn of the White House, Mr. Trump told reporters that when he came into office “people thought we were going — it was inevitable — we were going to war with North Korea.”

Despite Mr. Trump’s insistence that he remained tough on North Korea, three outcomes from the meeting between Mr. Moon and Mr. Kim suggested the White House had softened its position.

Mr. Moon is pushing toward a peace declaration — a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War — that the United States will almost certainly join.

Mr. Kim, only in his mid-30s but clearly a canny negotiator, has used the relationship with Mr. Moon to sidestep the American demand that he surrender all his nuclear capabilities first, and then negotiate. Instead, he is demanding reciprocal, step-by-step concessions from Mr. Trump — so far unspecified — and holding on to his nuclear weapons at least until he gets those allowances.

And finally, the Trump administration seems resigned to the idea that the “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization” that it once deemed as necessary in the next year is more likely to take at least a few years.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said as much Wednesday in a congratulatory statement to Mr. Moon and Mr. Kim. He used it to invite the North Koreans to meet his new special representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, in Vienna, “at the earliest opportunity,” to start denuclearization negotiations “to be completed by January 2021.”

The agreements signed on Wednesday by Mr. Moon and Mr. Kim seemed aimed more at reducing tensions along their shared border than moving quickly toward denuclearization.

Mr. Kim also promised to visit Seoul, the South Korean capital his government has often threatened to destroy in a “sea of fire.’’ He would be the first North Korean leader to make such a trip.

More significant was his promise to dismantle a missile engine-test facility and missile launchpad essential to the country’s development of intercontinental ballistic missiles. The North said it would also invite outside experts to watch.

But those facilities were used to develop the technology. The missiles are produced elsewhere.

Before he agrees to go further, Mr. Kim has demanded “corresponding” measures from the United States, presumably starting with a formal declaration ending a war halted by a truce 65 years ago.

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Mr. Moon and Mr. Kim signed a series of agreements aimed at easing tensions between their countries.CreditPool photo

It is unclear what else he may demand, including a permanent end to military exercises with South Korea or a withdrawal of American forces.

“What Kim is offering so far is to shutter sites that are pretty costless — doing enough to keep Trump appeased,’’ said Vipin Narang, a political-science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who follows North Korea’s nuclear program. “He’s avoiding giving up anything meaningful — actual weapons, fissile material and missiles.”

But Mr. Kim did propose to “permanently dismantle” the Yongbyon nuclear complex, the heart of his country’s nuclear program for the past four decades, among other steps — if his other conditions are met.

The Yongbyon offer could prove significant. North Korea is believed to have produced its plutonium there. Yongbyon also houses a centrifuge plant that produces highly enriched uranium, an alternative fuel for atomic bombs, though Western analysts suspect that North Korea has centrifuge plants elsewhere.

North Korea has mothballed Yongbyon before, only to restart it when negotiations with Washington stalled.

The offers Mr. Kim made on Wednesday — as well as actions he has already taken, such as a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests and the destruction of the North’s underground nuclear test site — indicated that he was willing to partly curtail his ability to produce more nuclear warheads and ICBMs.

But the offers say little about his existing arsenal. Mr. Kim’s ultimate goal, analysts say, is to make the Trump administration complacent enough to ease sanctions in return for a freeze — not dismantlement — of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs.

“No matter how hard I look, I can find no real progress in denuclearization in today’s announcements,” said Cheon Seong-whun, an analyst at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

South Korean officials cautioned that Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon excluded from their official agreements some ideas they had discussed, leaving them for negotiations between the North and the United States.

Mr. Moon, who is scheduled to brief Mr. Trump on Monday in New York, sounded optimistic. So did Mr. Trump, who has been preparing for a second meeting with Mr. Kim despite the reservations of hard-line White House aides.

“Based on the discussions we had here, the leaders of South Korea and the United States will be able to discuss ways of expediting denuclearization talks between the North and the United States,” Chung Eui-yong, Mr. Moon’s national security adviser, told South Korean reporters in Pyongyang. “We hope that a summit meeting between the North and the U.S. will take place soon.”

Mr. Moon began his three-day trip to Pyongyang on Tuesday with a complicated objective: advancing North-South ties and jump-starting stalled talks between Washington and Pyongyang.

As the 1988 Seoul Olympics helped transform South Korea from a dictatorship to a globalized economy, South Korean officials hope one part of the agreement — a joint bid to bring the 2032 Games to the peninsula — would improve inter-Korean ties and encourage North Korea to denuclearize.

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A cartoon in Seoul, South Korea, depicting Mr. Moon embracing President Trump and Mr. Kim.CreditEd Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“In this summit, President Moon made great strides in advancing inter-Korean ties,” said Lee Byong-chul, a senior fellow at the Institute for Peace and Cooperation in Seoul. “If Kim Jong-un cannot abandon his nuclear weapons outright, given the stiff opposition from his military, you have to create an environment where it becomes inevitable for the North to part with them. The Olympics might just do that.”

But there was doubt that the agreements on Wednesday would mollify hard-liners in Washington who consider sanctions “the best and only tool for denuclearization,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst at the Sejong Institute in South Korea.

Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump appeared headed to conflict last year, when North Korea tested ballistic missiles capable of reaching the continental United States and Mr. Trump threatened to “totally destroy the North.” Speaking at the United Nations a year ago, Mr. Trump called the Korean leader “Rocket Man.”

But the North Korean leader dramatically embraced diplomacy early this year, suspending all nuclear and missile tests and meeting the leaders of South Korea, China and the United States.

Since then, Mr. Trump appears to have been won over by Mr. Kim’s overtures, often talking about their personal relationship after their meeting in Singapore. His optimism stands in contrast to the position of top foreign policy aides, who have pushed to maintain punishing sanctions that they believe have pressured North Korea to negotiate.

Mr. Kim has found an eager partner in Mr. Moon. Since he assumed office in May 2017, Mr. Moon has made removing the threat of war and improving relations with the North his top policy goals. Recently he set forth a vision for connecting the two Koreas’ economies.

American officials, mindful of North Korea’s past failures to honor promises, are insisting that North Korea move quickly toward denuclearization by submitting an inventory of its nuclear weapons and fissile materials. But North Korea insists on denuclearizing “in phases” and has demanded that Washington first take steps to prove no hostile intent.

In Pyongyang this week, Mr. Moon again played mediator, trying to narrow the differences between North Korea and the United States, and working toward a second meeting between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump.

Seizing on Mr. Moon’s efforts, Mr. Kim gave the South Korean leader a warm welcome, mobilizing an estimated 100,000 North Koreans shouting “Reunification of the fatherland!” to greet their motorcade. At Mr. Kim’s suggestion, the two leaders plan on Thursday to visit Mount Baekdu near the China border, considered the spiritual home of all Koreans.

“The two Korean governments are declaring that the future of the peninsula should be decided by Koreans themselves,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

During a lunch on Wednesday of cold buckwheat noodles, a North Korean delicacy, Mr. Moon surprised Mr. Kim with a gift: the coin the White House had issued in commemoration of Mr. Trump’s June summit meeting with Mr. Kim, as well as the South Korean coins celebrating the inter-Korean meeting in April.

But the highlight of Mr. Moon’s trip came on Wednesday evening, when he became the first South Korean leader to address a large North Korean audience.

In a speech interrupted by thundering applause from 150,000 North Koreans who filled Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium, Mr. Moon extolled the “indomitable courage” of North Koreans in overcoming the famine of the 1990s, and he praised Mr. Kim’s effort to rebuild the economy.

“We Koreans are exceptional, we are tenacious, we are peace-loving,” Mr. Moon said. “And we must live together.”

Choe Sang-hun reported from Seoul, South Korea, and David E. Sanger from Washington.

Choe Sang-hun reported from Seoul, South Korea, and David E. Sanger from Washington.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A9 of the New York edition with the headline: New Nuclear Promises From Kim Fall Short of U.S. Demands. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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