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Handholding with South Korea aside, North Korea still has its nukes

Handholding with South Korea aside, North Korea still has its nukes
© Getty Images

If there is one real lesson history screams out for us to relearn when it comes to anything North Korea promises it is this: words are utterly meaningless.

And my fear today, as the world holds its collective breath, gazing fondly over images that seem to be a game changer coming from the recently-ended summit between North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and South Korea’s Moon-Jae In, is that we have been played — again.

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While the optics were certainly captivating — complete with hand holding, hugging, tree planting and big goals — little was achieved during the now just concluded Inter-Korean summit held in South Korea.

While the world has a right to celebrate the fact that tensions on the Korean Peninsula are no longer spiking towards potential nuclear war, this summit does nothing to change the facts on the ground that almost sparked a clash that could have seen millions of people lose their loves — meaning Kim still has his nuclear weapons and all the vague promises, goals or aspirational joint statements won’t change that.

At least for the moment, this appears to be little more than a Potemkin summit, as Kim Jong Un and his regime are once again trying to trick the world again into thinking he will denuclearize. History will likely judge this gathering as big on pomp, but delivering no more than great photo-ops.

What the international community must demand now is that Kim turns his words into deeds — like the quick removal of his nuclear weapons. If not, then we know the world has been deceived by North Korea — another in a series of obvious mistakes, allowing Kim more time to build ever more advanced atomic arms.

But, to be clear, any meeting between North and South Korea is historic, and Seoul should be commended for doing what it could in trying to alter the situation in Northeast Asia. Indeed, a real peace treaty between the parties to end the Korean War and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is still possible. However, North Korea’s promises have no real value anymore. Indeed, history is filled with Pyongyang’s lies, traps and guarantees that should be verified and never believed. Only action should be trusted — or rewarded.

The Trump administration now must decide whether this meeting made enough progress to warrant the biggest of all summits: a U.S.-North Korea gathering in the next few weeks.

Here is where things get complicated. If the Trump administration’s goal is for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, it will need to demand Kim move past words and make firm pledges, pledges that he would need to be held accountable for.

For example, Kim, to get Trump to agree to any summit, surely must free — and in good health — the three Americans he has held captive. Washington can’t meet in good faith with any nation that has our citizens held captive — in what would set an awfully ugly precedent. If North Korea won’t release these captives then President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden MORE shouldn’t meet with Kim. Period.

Next, Kim must layout a concrete plan of action that shows how Pyongyang plans to remove its nuclear weapons. This must include a full accounting of his atomic arsenal, all material that could go into building any additional nuclear weapons as well a detailed account of any nuclear knowhow he may have shared with other nations or non-state actors.

Then, North Korea would also need to detail a timeline of how quickly they will hand over their full arsenal, and agree to intrusive international inspectors in country that have the right to travel anywhere, at any time, with no restrictions, and with no warning at all. This is the only surefire way America should send the leader of the free world to meet with the leader of nation that still has 100,000 people in political prison camps. If Kim balks, President Trump never boards Air Force One.

While we all know it won’t be easy, and most certainly unlikely, any diplomatic effort to try and rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons is a worthy pursuit. However, all the photos in the world won’t rid the planet of these awful weapons. While it is too soon to call this summit a complete failure, what matters now is to ensure the promises made by North Korea are honored in a concrete and verifiable way. If not, America’s maximum pressure campaign must continue — and President Trump should avoid any meeting with Kim.

Harry J. Kazianis (@grecianformula) is director of Defense Studies at the Center for the National Interest, founded in 1994 by President Richard M. Nixon, as well as executive editor on its publishing arm, The National Interest. Kazianis previously served on the foreign policy team of the 2016 Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol MORE presidential campaign. He has also held positions as Foreign Policy Communications Manager at the Heritage Foundation, editor-in-chief of The Diplomat as well as a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The views voiced in this article are his own.