Kim's stated commitment to stop production of nuclear weapons goes beyond a prior pledge to halt nuclear and ballistic missile tests.
NEW YORK – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un kicked off 2019 by pledging to halt production of nuclear weapons, declaring that 2018’s diplomatic engagement with President Trump succeeded in improving relations that were previously “the most hostile on the earth.”
Summarizing recent shifts in his country’s nuclear ambitions, Kim proclaimed in an annual New Year’s address that, “we would neither make and test nuclear weapons any longer nor use and proliferate them.”
Robert Carlin, a visiting scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford, says that’s a big deal.
“They’ve already said they would halt testing — we know that. They’ve said, in a qualified way, they wouldn’t use or proliferate nuclear weapons — we already knew that. But this thing about halting production is new, and I’ve seen some people dismiss it. I wouldn’t dismiss it.”
Carlin concedes that while it’s hard to gauge exactly what North Korea is doing with its nuclear program behind the scenes, he’s encouraged that Kim put his own personal legitimacy on the line by stating that an improved U.S. relationship was the “invariable” goal of the North Korean people and his ruling party.
“Nothing I saw was negative about the United States. He could have said, ‘well, we’re stalled, the U.S. has made things difficult.’ He could have said any of the things that have been in the criticism of the last two months. And I didn’t see that, that wasn’t a note he wanted to sound.”
Now comes the work of turning conciliatory rhetoric into diplomatic agreements as Kim and Trump plan a second face-to-face meeting. It’s unclear when or where that will take place, but Joel Wit, the director of 38 North at The Stimson Center, thinks Kim has handed American negotiators meaningful new targets to work towards.
“It may give us a hook to pursue, at least initially, a freeze of all of North Korea’s fissile material production and the necessary measures to verify that freeze.”