The weekend brought another interesting turn to the complex web of U.S. and North Korean relations, as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced that his country would be suspending their nuclear and missiles tests, and eliminating their nuclear test site in favor of enabling more economic growth. This statement marks a move in Kim’s tenacious strategy of moving North Korea to a nuclear powerhouse. In Kim’s first speech as leader back in 2012, he said, “The days are gone forever when our enemies could blackmail us with nuclear bombs.”
However, the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that, according to Kim, the state no longer needed nuclear tests or intercontinental ballistic missile tests, because it had completed the goal of developing weapons.
The KCNA directly quoted Kim saying, “Under the proven condition of complete nuclear weapons, we no longer need any nuclear tests, mid-range and intercontinental ballistic rocket tests, and the nuclear test site in northern area has also completed its mission.” Many are saying that this statement means good things for the future meeting of Kim and President Trump later this month, but critics argue that the suspension of tests still falls short of Washington’s demands of total denuclearization. Yet the fact that Kim announced this ahead of time may be a sign that he is more open to talks of denuclearization than previously feared.
Some critics have also been skeptical of the timing of Kim’s announcement in accordance with his overall nuclear action. According to the New York Times, North Korea hasn’t tested missiles since November. However, 2017 brought 23 missile strikes including intercontinental missiles claimed to be able to reach mainland U.S.
Despite the many different theories revolving around this advancement, President Trump is hopeful that this means progress between him and Kim, who he previously nick-named “Rocket Man.” On Friday, he tweeted: “North Korea has agreed to suspend all Nuclear Tests and close up a major test site. This is very good news for North Korea and the World big progress! Look forward to our Summit.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-In showed similar optimism as he told journalists, “Meaningful progress for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres have all recognized Kim’s announcement as a positive step in the direction of denuclearization.
However, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said the movement was “insufficient” and “not satisfactory,” as North Korea did not specify the short and mid-range missiles that could target and reach Japan. As the historic feud between the U.S. and North Korea comes into a more positive light, the world is reacting in a kaleidoscope of opinions, critiques and concerns. Most of which has cemented on the question: With all the action, what will North Korea ask for in return? Although the report from KCNA explained that the actions will be taken in order to instill economic security for North Korea, many find it hard to recognize the historically militarily-focused leader going forward with his announcement without asking for a few returns.
As North Korea and South Korea plan to meet at the entrenched DMZ, the world will wait to see exactly what Kim’s halt of missile tests means.