Monday brought a report that North Korea has not stopped its nuclear weapons program despite Kim Jong-un’s public rhetoric indicating his desire to denuclearize. According to NBC News, “The newest intelligence shows Kim’s regime has escalated efforts to conceal its nuclear activity, according to three senior U.S. officials. During the three months since the historic Singapore summit and Trump’s proclamation that North Korea intends to denuclearize, North Korea has built structures to obscure the entrance to at least one warhead storage facility.”
This latest report comes on the heels of last week’s seemingly positive development regarding North Korea’s annual military parade. It was learned that a certain element of the parade would be conspicuously absent — there were no ICBMs featured. This may have been a nod by Kim to Trump for the latter having canceled the U.S. and South Korea annual military exercises that have proven to be such a provocation to the North.
So is Kim engaged in the same strategy his father took with the U.S., acting at playing nice in order to gain concessions without really changing anything? That’s almost undoubtedly what Kim has up his sleeve, but Trump’s not falling for it, despite his recent message of praise. Trump offered, “This is a big and very positive statement from North Korea. Thank you To Chairman Kim. We will both prove everyone wrong! There is nothing like good dialogue from two people that like each other! Much better than before I took office.” Meanwhile, the White House announced work has begun to set up a second summit between the two leaders.
The fact is that behind the scenes, Trump isn’t conceding ground; he’s ratcheting up the pressure. The U.S. has been leading an international coalition to step up efforts in exposing and confronting international shipping that has sought to evade the sanctions against North Korea. In other words, Kim has not pulled the wool over Trump’s eyes. A better way to interpret Trump’s positive messaging on Kim is to understand that while Trump is giving Kim the slow squeeze, he is also giving him room to publicly save face. It may not succeed, but at least it’s not the same failed approach of the last 25 years.