If we were completely impartial observers from another planet, with no particular stake in whether or not North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons, we would strongly advise Kim Jong Un not to betray President Donald Trump. For his own sake.
We know he may not give a damn about his people, but we assume that he cares very deeply about maintaining his power and his dictatorial legacy. And the only path – the ONLY path – left for him to keep the throne is to live up to the promises he made in Singapore this month. We don’t say this as supporters of the president or even as American citizens. We say this as rational observers of the man in the White House: Stab Donald Trump in the back, and you will pay a hefty price. In Kim’s case, that price will almost certainly be the keys to the Hermit Kingdom.
Trump took a huge gamble when he agreed to meet Kim Jong Un as an equal on the global stage. This was something that no previous president had been willing to do: Grant North Korea a degree of legitimacy in the hopes that an offer of respect would translate into a denuclearization deal for the good of the globe. And he took no small amount of criticism – some from within the Republican Party – for moving forward with the summit. Critics feared that he was simply giving North Korea a decade’s worth of propaganda in exchange for empty promises that would ultimately mean nothing. Some feared that Kim Jong Un was merely using this as an opportunity to buy time while his engineers continued working on a nuclear weapons program. Trump, willing to take the chance, went forward with the historic meeting.
Kim Jong Un, don’t make him regret it.
See, we have a theory about why Trump was willing to put away the “fire and fury” rhetoric and agree to this unprecedented summit. It had less to do with Trump’s faith in the North Korean dictator and more to do with the fact that we’re all out of options. Trump isn’t willing to go another two/six years on the “strategic patience” front. We’re past that now. We’re at the “You have two options: Denuclearize or Die” stage. Trump has offered the olive branch. Kim would be an absolute fool not to take it.
According to satellite images published by watchdog group 38 North this week, North Korea has not only taken zero steps toward denuclearization, they are actively working to upgrade their existing nuclear reactor. The group’s analysis concluded that improvements at the Yongbyon nuclear plant are “continuing at a rapid pace” in the wake of the Singapore summit.
“Infrastructure improvements continue at Yongbyon,” said Jenny Town of 38 North. “Underscores reason why an actual deal is necessary, not just a statement of lofty goals.”
To be clear, without a deal signed between North Korea and the U.S., the improvements to this reactor cannot be termed a violation. There is nothing to violate, after all. But the fact that Kim regime is moving forward with his weapons program is surely not an indicator of good faith.
Right now, this is nothing more than a yellow caution light on the path to what will surely be a long, drawn-out negotiations process between the U.S. and North Korea. At the same time, this is a bad moment in history for Kim Jong Un to start playing games. He has a golden opportunity in front of him.
We have a feeling it will be his last.