Against the background of a number of high-profile statements by the Western press that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is secretly developing a nuclear missile program, thereby violating the Singapore Declaration and deceiving the world community at large and Donald Trump personally, the author would like to present a detailed answer to the matter in question.
As you may recall, the joint statement of the leaders of the United States and North Korea consisted of four main parts. The first two were full of noble intentions: the parties “undertake to establish new relations” and “will join efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula”. In the third, North Korea confirmed the Panmunjom Declaration of April 27, 2018 and agreed to “work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” without, however, any deadlines, clarifications, and further explanations. Only the last paragraph contained some specifics: “The United States and North Korea undertake to return the remains of missing prisoners of war, including the immediate return of already identified persons“.
Since the Korean war, about 8 thousand American soldiers have been considered missing. According to the Pentagon, the remains of about 5,600 U.S. soldiers are still located on North Korean territory. In the period from 1990 to 2005, the DPRK returned the remains of over six hundred American soldiers to the U.S.
On July 9, 2018, during a meeting with the press, Pentagon spokesman Robert Manning reported that the Pentagon is ready to receive the remains of U.S. soldiers killed during the Korean War: United Nations Command will receive the remains from the North Korean side and will hand them over to the United States.
On July 26, the representative of the North Korean Foreign Ministry reported that North Korea recently accepted two truck loads of wooden crates from the USA intended for the transportation of the remains, and that on July 27, C-17 military transport aircraft transferred the remains from North Korea to the Osan air base near the city of Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi province.
Interestingly, North Korean media did not report the ceremony, and the U.S. air force plane landed not in Pyongyang but in the newly built Kalma airport near Wonsan.
After the transfer ceremony, U.S. President Donald Trump thanked the North Korean leader in the presence of the media: “I want to thank Chairman Kim in front of the media for fulfilling a promise that he made to me and I’m sure that he will continue to fulfill that promise as they search [for all the remains].”
The amount of anti-American propaganda is on the decline as well. As a certain Western diplomat working in Pyongyang told the Voice of America radio station, the summit in Singapore has brought about visible changes: various anti-U.S. propaganda materials have recently disappeared. “Anti-American slogans and posters on the streets are now almost gone. This is very noticeable when compared to the previous situation.” At the same time, the diplomat found it hard to tell whether the anti-American propaganda disappeared from the ideological schooling of North Koreans as well.
The same is reported by South Korean and Western media who quote travel agency representatives working with North Korea. This is not to say that there is no criticism of the U.S. position. But it means that North Koreans are refraining from direct invective, and that they seem to separate the President’s position from the statements of other dignitaries at whom they prefer to direct their wrath. Even the strong statement made by the Foreign Ministry (which we will speak of later) doesn’t mean the door has been slammed shut.
Moreover, North Korea has begun dismantling key facilities of the Sohae rocket engine test site near the village of Tonchan-Ni in the Cholsan-Gong district of North Pyongan Province. This has been reported by the 38 North center at Johns Hopkins University, and is based on data received from satellite footage.
According to the information received by July 20, it is clear that the roof of the covered rail system for transporting missiles has been dismantled and a construction crane has been placed next to it. By July 22, several parts of the disassembled installation had become visible. Work is also underway on dismantling the building which was used to assemble launch vehicles.
United States President Donald Trump welcomed these reports. Speaking on July 24 in Kansas City at the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States National Convention, Donald Trump said that the new satellite photos indicate the dismantling of one of North Korea’s most important missile ranges. “We welcome this,” stressed the Head of the White House.
However, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was more restrained. He maintained that such actions on behalf of North Korea correspond to the commitments made during the summit in Singapore, and noted that North Korea should allow foreign experts to visit the test site.
Let us now look into the accusations made against North Korea, which, interestingly enough, are made by the same press that generally criticizes Trump. Clearly in order to overshadow the August 1 news regarding the transfer of the remains on July 30, The Washington Post reported that North Korea continues work on new intercontinental ballistic missiles. As usual, references were made to anonymous sources, according to which the production of missiles continues at a large military plant in the vicinity of Pyongyang (where they were made earlier). The newspaper also stated the the U.S. intelligence report contains satellite images that depict the process of creating at least one ICBM.
The White House hasn’t confirmed or denied this information. Neither has Seoul. It only continues to “closely monitor the development of the situation and maintain close contacts on the issue with the United States.”
Earlier, on July 13, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said that following the summit in Singapore, Pyongyang’s actions have not undergone serious changes. He maintains that some recent North Korean reports are inaccurate and unidentified activity still continues in the region. However, Coats said that work with North Korea is only at the initial stage. Analysis will continue and at the moment it is still too early to talk about how the DPRK will act further. In other words – something strange is going on, we don’t really know what it is, but we are sure they’re violating something!
Another allegation was made by Reuters with reference to the report presented by UN experts and submitted to the UN Sanctions Committee on August 3. It is based on the results of six month long research and consists of 149 pages. Yet the media forgot to mention that the report raised many questions (especially from Russia and China) and was practically rejected. Moreover, it was mainly devoted to the issues of illegal transportation of petroleum products. The latter section presented at least some credible arguments in contrast to the talks about the nuclear and missile weapons program.
Nevertheless, on August 7, National Security Advisor of the United States John Bolton said that North Korean leadership did not take the steps necessary for denuclearization, despite the agreements between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. “We need action from North Korea. The United States has fulfilled the obligations of the Singapore Declaration, but North Korea has not taken the steps that we believe are necessary in order to carry out denuclearization,” he said. Bolton promised to “exert maximum pressure on North Korea” and ruled out the possibility of lifting the sanctions imposed on this country until Pyongyang carries out denuclearization.
It is no wonder that following this declaration, the Foreign Ministry of the DPRK made a rather harsh statement. After all, even if the actions undertaken by North Korea can’t be considered irreversible, all that the U.S. did in response was momentarily suspend its military exercises. There has been no real decline in allegations against North Korea. There is still no moratorium on the introduction of new sanctions. No irreversible actions have been undertaken. All this makes the author wonder – how much longer will the “2018 Olympic warming” last?
Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, Leading Research Fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”