Trump should test Kim Jong Un on this important humans rights issue

Trump should test Kim Jong Un on this important humans rights issue
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It is time to retest Kim Jong Un’s intentions as the drama surrounding the upcoming summit between the United States and North Korea continues.

Is Kim looking for peace with the United States and our allies? Or is this the usual North Korean trickery designed to buy cash and time for the Kim experiment in regional and domestic terror? The threats of nuclear annihilation from Pyongyang have elevated denuclearization to the forefront of the discussion, but as senior officials on both sides attempt to salvage the summit, the time is ripe for a new assessment.

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The test case is simple, and does not threaten Kim’s own government. For nearly seven decades, an estimated 100,000 Korean Americans have endured forced separation from their family members in North Korea. President TrumpDonald John TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE can test Kim’s resolve for real change by bringing up an important human rights issue, which is the reunion of families divided between the United States and North Korea.

The timing is urgent with talks underway for President Trump to right this wrong. The youngest Korean Americans who escaped North Korea at the end of the Korean War are now in their 60s, and already many from older generations have died waiting to see their loved ones once again.

Promoting family reunions does not preclude the United States from pursuing its efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. To the contrary, it can serve as a much needed booster. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has done exactly this with respect to the abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. Notably, Abe’s focus on resolving the issue of abductees has not weakened Japan’s stance on its missile and nuclear issues with North Korea.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoClarence Thomas, Joe Manchin, Rudy Giuliani among guests at second state visit under Trump Senate Judiciary Committee requests consultation with admin on refugee admissions State Department's top arms control official leaving MORE set forth a similar agenda with Iran, vowing to “advocate tirelessly for the Iranian people” and promising to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its human rights violations. As with Iran, the Trump administration can simultaneously prioritize human rights and denuclearization for North Korea.

A key prerequisite in securing these reunions must be a resolve to reject the usual manipulation and extortion that is Pyongyang’s signature. Historically, North Korea has used family reunions between North Koreans and South Koreans as a political bargaining chip, postponing or canceling meetings to promote the regime’s political interests. Nor should North Korea’s cooperation exonerate the Kim regime of its horrific human rights abuses at home. This is a test case, not a “get out of jail free” card.

Other than the reward of a meeting with the leader of the free world, what are Kim’s incentives? He is afraid of further sanctions and damage to his newly minted reputation. North Korea’s recent charm offensive with South Korea and at the PyeongChang Winter Olympic games also laid bare the regime’s desire to build up a much needed international credibility.

More importantly, Kim must be made to understand that such demands are a serious test of his long-term intentions. Saying “yes” should be easy. Saying “no” will tell us that if Kim refuses to jump over this low bar, he is unlikely to give up the crown jewel, which is his nuclear program.

If President Trump is determined to make a winning deal with North Korea, arguing for family reunions, which has long been a priority for South Korea, is a surefire way for the United States to gain the moral upper hand, restore the human rights of thousands of Americans and North Koreans, and test Kim Jong Un’s resolve for real change.

Olivia Schieber and Cecilia Joy Pérez are research associates who specialize in Asian studies at the American Enterprise Institute.