Trump faces pivotal moment on North Korea at UN

Trump faces pivotal moment on North Korea at UN
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpA better VA, with mental health services, is essential for America's veterans Pelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Trump arrives in Japan to kick off 4-day state visit MORE will face mounting pressure from South Korea’s president to sign a peace declaration with North Korea following an inter-Korea summit that saw Pyongyang make new pledges on denuclearization.

Trump is scheduled to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the coming week at the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly in New York.

There, Moon is expected to relay verbal commitments North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made on top of their joint declaration. On the basis of Kim’s latest pledges, Moon is expected to push Trump hard for something North Korea has been demanding — a peace declaration to end the Korean War.

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“There is concern that he may go ahead and do that in a second summit with Kim,” Bruce Klingner, a former CIA analyst now at the Heritage Foundation, said of Trump signing a peace declaration. “Moon will be putting a full-court press on Trump to accept in the near term a summit with Kim. The White House has already accepted an invitation, but no announcement on venue or time.”

This past week, Moon and Kim held their third summit, this time meeting in Pyongyang for the first visit there by a South Korean president in more than a decade.

Moon went into the summit with an eye toward reviving U.S.-North Korea talks, which appeared nearly flat-lined last month when Trump canceled a planned trip to Pyongyang by Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: 1,500 troops heading to Mideast to counter Iran | Trump cites Iran tensions to push through Saudi arms sale | Senate confirms Army, Navy chiefs before weeklong recess Senators say Trump using loophole to push through Saudi arms sale Trump to send 1,500 troops to Middle East to counter Iran MORE.

At the second day of the summit, Moon and Kim announced a joint declaration in which Kim agreed to allow international inspectors to observe the dismantlement of a missile engine test site and launch pad.

Kim also agreed to dismantle North Korea’s main nuclear complex — if the United States agrees to unspecified “corresponding measures.”

The Trump administration welcomed the declaration, with Trump proclaiming on Twitter that it is “very exciting!”

Pompeo said that in light of the new commitments, the United States was ready to immediately resume dialogue with the goal of completing the talks by January 2021.

But North Korea experts have said there is less than meets the eye to Kim’s latest pledges.

For example, North Korea previously agreed to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear reactor in the 1990s and 2000s, said Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. It is also an “old and decrepit” plutonium reactor, as opposed to one of North Korea’s hidden highly enriched uranium reactors, which is where “the action is,” he said.

Still, Moon has a lot riding on the success of North Korean diplomacy and so will work to convince Trump that Kim is serious, Green said.

“Moon Jae-in desperately needs Donald Trump to move quickly with a summit with Kim Jong Un to keep this appearance of momentum going for his own domestic politics,” he said on a conference call with reporters about the U.N. meeting. “He’s staked a lot on North Korean diplomacy. His polls were sagging before this Sept. 18 trip to Pyongyang.”

Another red flag for North Korea skeptics was the “if” in Kim’s pledge to close Yongbyon.

The declaration does not specify what reciprocations North Korea is looking for. But North Korea has been demanding the United States sign a joint peace declaration ending the Korean War before it takes steps to denuclearization.

North Korean state media has been asserting Trump already agreed to do so at the Singapore summit in June.

“The U.S. side should neither insist on ‘denuclearization first and conclusion of a peace treaty next’ nor delay the settlement of the issue of adopting a war-end declaration its president promised during the Singapore [North Korea]-U.S. summit,” the Korean Central News Agency said in early September.

The Korean War ended in an armistice, not a treaty, meaning it is still technically ongoing.

Proponents of Trump signing a peace declaration argue it will be a good faith gesture to progress diplomacy without further ramifications.

Opponents, though, argue it will give Kim and others fodder for advocating the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the U.S. nuclear umbrella from South Korea.

Following his summit with Kim, Moon urged Trump to sign a joint statement declaring an end to the Korean War, adding he would discuss the issue with the Trump in New York.

“I confirmed with Chairman Kim that his concept of the end-of-war declaration is the same as mine,” Moon told reporters in Seoul.

Moon also said he will pass a private message from Kim to Trump.

Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, said Moon would “clearly” push Trump on a “concession-for-concession formula” where Kim shuts down Yongbyon in exchange for the peace declaration.

Kazianis said he thinks Trump should do it even without any guarantee of concessions.

“If Trump was smart, he would freely agree to end the war, and do it before the midterms, in a big ceremony with Kim and other signatories, and use it for political gain back home — saying he was the president to end the Korean War would be a legacy builder and turn the media narrative away from negative domestic political news,” he said in an email to The Hill from Seoul. “This also puts pressure on Kim to have to make a matching concession quickly, or it exposes him to be a fraud, something I would assume he would want to avoid terribly.”

Klingner at Heritage, though, said South Korea is getting ahead of itself. Still, he said, Moon could be successful with Trump, who has openly mused about winning a Nobel Peace Prize.

“There is concern in Washington the Seoul is moving too far too fast,” he said. “There is strong resistance to signing a peace declaration because there’s the realization that it doesn’t provide any tangible benefits and has any number of potential serious ramifications. But there’s also concern that President Trump will go ahead and sign it because it would seem to be a grandiose, historic event without regard for how it could play out for the alliance and allied deterrence capabilities.”