15 May Denuclearization Means Different Things to Kim and Trump, North Korean Defector Says
SEOUL—North Korea’s highest-profile defector in two decades said that Kim Jong Un doesn’t share the same concept of denuclearization as the U.S., issuing a warning ahead of a planned summit meeting between President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader.
Thae Yong Ho, Pyongyang’s deputy ambassador in London before his defection to South Korea two years ago, told reporters in Seoul on Monday that North Korea is unlikely to agree to Washington’s demand of “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization,” or CVID, because it would challenge the fundamental structure of North Korea’s political system.
CVID “will strike at the core of North Korea’s power structure. North Korea will not accept CVID that does not ensure the security of the regime,” Mr. Thae said.
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President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un both say they want denuclearization, but they may have different definitions of the word. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday explains.
Instead, Mr. Thae said that North Korea is likely to push for a watered-down version of denuclearization that will ensure the long-term stability of the regime.
Disagreements over how to verify North Korea’s denuclearization and the meaning of complete denuclearization have emerged as stumbling blocks in the U.S.-North Korea talks.
Mr. Thae emphasized Mr. Kim’s insistence on a security guarantee as a precondition for committing to denuclearization.
“What Kim Jong Un means by a security guarantee is a promise to keep his hereditary political system intact, and his absolute authority intact,” Mr. Thae said, adding that he didn’t believe Pyongyang would pursue economic reforms in the same way as China and Vietnam, both communist nations.
Since his defection, Mr. Thae has spoken out against the regime he once served. Last year, he told reporters in Seoul that Mr. Kim’s “days are numbered” and vowed to help bring him down.
His remarks come at a delicate time. Mr. Kim met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in last month at the inter-Korean demilitarized zone and is set to meet with Mr. Trump in Singapore on June 12.
Mr. Trump said last week that he believed Mr. Kim wanted to strike a big deal to give up his nuclear program in exchange for economic inducements.
“I really think he wants to do something and bring that country into the real world. I really believe that,” he said.
Mr. Thae, speaking to reporters at the release of a 542-page memoir, said North Korea had described its nuclear program as its “spear and shield” just a week before last month’s inter-Korean summit—language that underscored Mr. Kim’s commitment to holding on to such a strategic asset.
‘What Kim Jong Un means by a security guarantee is a promise to keep his hereditary political system intact, and his absolute authority intact.’
—Thae Yong Ho
Instead, Mr. Thae said, the North Korean leader is more likely to seek increased South Korean investment in his country by initially reopening it to South Korean tourists. He reasoned that Mr. Kim’s youth in Switzerland had made him open to the idea of earning cash through tourism, unlike his father, Kim Jong Il.
The former Pyongyang diplomat further asserted tourism would be a way to earn trust with South Korean investors, who remain wary of spending cash in North Korea due to the political risk stemming from the regime’s nuclear-weapons program.
Mr. Kim is likely to pursue tourism ventures for two to three years in coastal areas, before seeking to widen South Korean investment to joint industrial parks similar to one at Kaesong that was built with South Korean cash and employed cheap North Korean labor. That park was closed in 2016 after North Korea’s fourth nuclear test.
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