World will be watching Koreas’ summit

Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea

When North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday, the world will have a single overriding interest: How will they address North Korea’s decades-long pursuit of nuclear-armed missiles?

Success, even a small one, on the nuclear front could mean a prolonged detente and smooth the path for a planned summit between Kim and President Donald Trump in May or June. Optimists hope the two summits might even result in a grand nuclear bargain.

North Korea’s announcement Saturday to suspend further nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and close its nuclear test site raised hopes in Washington and Seoul for a breakthrough in the upcoming nuclear negotiations. However, the North’s statement stopped well short of suggesting it has any intentions to give up its nukes or halt its production of missiles.

Failure to reach a nuclear agreement would raise serious questions about the sincerity of Kim’s recent outreach to Seoul and Washington and rekindle the fears of war that spread across the Korean Peninsula last year.

Although North Korea has expressed a willingness to have “candid” talks with the United States about the denuclearization of the peninsula, there’s rampant skepticism about whether Kim will give up his nukes.

Those weapons are the core of his authoritarian rule, a “powerful treasured sword” meant to neutralize U.S. nuclear threats. And the North’s call for “the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” has been linked to a demand for the withdrawal of the 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea.

Kim suggested during a trip to Beijing in March that he prefers step-by-step disarmament in return for corresponding concessions. That, critics say, could allow the North to covertly continue its weapons programs while winning badly needed aid, which occurred during now-dormant six-nation nuclear talks from 2003 to 2008.

Analysts say it’s likely that Kim will make similar commitments during the inter-Korean summit as a way of reaching out to the United States.

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