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North Korea says it’s up to U.S. whether they meet at a table or in a ‘nuclear showdown’

The Washington Post logoThe Washington Post 5/24/2018 Anna Fifield
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TOKYO — North Korea is threatening to reconsider Kim Jong Un’s participation in a summit with President Trump next month, saying it is up to the United States to decide whether it wants to “meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown.” 

The punchy statement comes a day after Trump suggested there was a “substantial chance” that he would postpone or cancel the summit, scheduled to be held in Singapore on June 12, if North Korea did not meet “certain conditions,” without elaborating on what those conditions were.

A close aide to Kim unleashed a torrent of invective against the Trump administration Thursday morning, calling Vice President Pence a “political dummy” for remarks he made to Fox News on Monday. 

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“As a person involved in the U.S. affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the U.S. vice-president,” said Choe Son Hui, a vice foreign minister who was previously the regime’s top official in charge of relations with the United States. The daughter of a former premier, she is also thought to have direct access to Kim. 

On Monday, just days after a North Korean broadside at national security adviser John Bolton for his mention of a “Libya model” for the denuclearization of the North, Pence doubled down on the analogy.

“As the President made clear, this will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn’t make a deal,” Pence told Fox News . Asked whether that could be interpreted as a threat, Pence said: “Well, I think it’s more of a fact.”

As preparations for the summit continue, Bolton and Pence have touted the “Libya model,” whereby Moammar Gaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program in 2003 in return for sanctions relief.

The North Korean regime, however, remembers what happened eight years later: Gaddafi was overthrown and brutally killed by his opponents.

Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, have repeatedly said they would guarantee Kim’s safety and he would stay in charge of a country that could benefit from an influx of foreign investment if it were prepared to give up its nuclear weapons.

Choe said comparisons with Libya betrayed Pence’s lack of knowledge.

“We could surmise more than enough what a political dummy he is as he is trying to compare the DPRK, a nuclear weapon state, to Libya that had simply installed a few items of equipment and fiddled around with them,” she said, using the abbreviation for the state’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“If he is vice-president of ‘single superpower’ as is in name, it will be proper for him to know even a little bit about the current state of global affairs and to sense to a certain degree the trends in dialogue and the climate of détente,” she said in a statement released by the official Korea Central News Agency.

Libya, like Iran, did not have an operational nuclear weapons program when it struck its deal with western powers. North Korea sees itself as a nuclear state that should be treated as an equal to the United States and other nuclear powers, not a rogue regime to be forced into a corner.

If the United States “offends against our goodwill and clings to unlawful and outrageous acts,” Choe said, she would suggest that Kim reconsider attending the Singapore summit.

“We will neither beg the U.S. for dialogue nor take the trouble to persuade them if they do not want to sit together with us,” she said, returning to the military threats that were the hallmark of bilateral relations in 2017. “Whether the U.S. will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision. . . of the U.S.”

The current disagreement stems from the two sides’ sharply different interpretations of what will be discussed at next month’s summit.

Trump and his top officials have repeatedly said they want North Korea’s “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” — a standard that would involve sending hundreds of international inspectors into North Korea to monitor a total end to the nuclear program that Kim has spent so much money and energy in developing.

Then, Trump has said, North Korea could expect American companies to go in and help develop the electricity network and agriculture sector, two parts of the North’s anemic economy that are most desperately in need of investment.

For its part, North Korea has been quite clear that it will not bargain away any part of its nuclear program without significant concessions from the United States and that this must be carried out in stages. Many experts doubt that North Korea will denuclearize at all, although they say it might relinquish a few token missiles or warheads.

Last week, another senior Foreign Ministry official decried the Trump administration’s talk of “abandoning nuclear weapons first, compensating afterwards.”

Amid concerns from American lawmakers that Trump’s diplomatic venture with North Korea is faltering, Pompeo said Wednesday that the administration had not made any concessions to the Kim regime and will continue to hold firm until Pyongyang takes “credible steps” toward denuclearization.

“We have made zero concessions to Chairman Kim to date, and we have no intention of doing so,” Pompeo told the House Foreign Affairs Committee during his first congressional grilling as secretary of state, referring to the North Korean leader.

North Korea, founded in opposition to the United States after World War II ended, has harbored nuclear ambitions for decades, viewing the weapons as the ultimate guarantee of the regime’s security in the face of Washington’s “hostile policies.”

Although the regime tested its first nuclear device in 2006, under the current leader’s father, it has made enormous technical strides in the six years since Kim Jong Un took power. In addition to developing what it says is a hydrogen bomb — a claim that outside experts say is credible — North Korea has built increasingly long-range and reliable missiles.

In November, North Korea claimed that the entire U.S. mainland was within reach after “successfully” testing a new kind of intercontinental ballistic missile , which it said could carry a “super large heavy warhead.”

Although it remains unproven whether North Korea can marry its nuclear devices with its missiles, experts confirmed that the missile, which flew 10 times higher than the International Space Station, could theoretically reach Washington.

With that test, North Korea declared that its rocket development process had been completed — an announcement that some analysts viewed as a sign that the Kim regime was now ready for talks on the basis that it was a nuclear power.

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