What others say: One step forward, two steps back on North Korea denuclearization

The U.S. and North Korea are again publicly disagreeing about progress toward the North’s denuclearization, and that’s no surprise. This was likely to happen once President Trump agreed to “phased” progress and dropped demands that the North agree up front to reveal and dismantle weapons.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been in Asia urging the region’s leaders to tighten enforcement of United Nations sanctions against North Korea. That prompted the North’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho to accuse the U.S. of violating the denuclearization agreement President Trump and Kim Jong Un signed in Singapore in June.

The text calls for “simultaneous actions and phased steps,” and the North has returned U.S. soldiers’ remains and dismantled a missile test site as promised. So the North figures why isn’t the U.S. relaxing sanctions instead of trying to tighten them?

Let’s look at this with North Korean logic. Yes, it is continuing its nuclear and missile programs, which violates the spirit of the Singapore agreement. But there was no timetable or specifics on how the North would denuclearize. Pyongyang figures it has kept its side of the bargain, and now it’s the U.S. turn to give something on sanctions.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration says progress toward North Korean denuclearization is still being made. Mr. Pompeo says he’s confident that Kim remains committed to that goal, and Mr. Trump boasts at rallies that the North hasn’t launched a missile test in months. So perhaps Mr. Ri figures the North isn’t doing anything wrong by using this time to keep building its nuclear arsenal.

A U.N. report submitted Friday and leaked to the press sums up the U.S. problem. The North’s production of ICBMs and nuclear material for warheads continues. Ship-to-ship trade in petroleum and coal in violation of sanctions has increased massively this year. The North’s exports of textiles are still strong, and it is getting around financial sanctions. It is trying to sell weapons to Syria and the Houthis.

Recent satellite imagery shows that the North has added two buildings at its missile-production facility near Pyongyang as well as new facilities at its nuclear-enrichment facility in Yongbyon. It has expanded a facility in Hamhung that makes solid-fuel missile components. The U.S. acknowledges that the North probably has a uranium-enrichment plant at Kangson, which means it has more material to build bombs than previously estimated.

The Journal reported last week that Russia registered 10,000 new North Korean workers this year, in violation of U.N. sanctions. Mr. Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley criticized Russia for violating sanctions, and the U.S. Treasury sanctioned a Russian bank on Friday for handling North Korean transactions.

This action is welcome but it amounts to scrambling to make up for the concessions Mr. Trump made to Mr. Kim in Singapore. The North will insist on further U.S. concessions for even the smallest step toward denuclearization. So far the North hasn’t even turned over a complete list of its weapons and facilities.

Meanwhile, with Mr. Trump bragging that he has ended the North Korean nuclear threat, the global sanctions regime erodes because Russia and China feel no pressure to enforce them. The prospect of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization looks further away now than it was before Singapore.

—The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 5, 2018

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