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North Korea and Denuclearization

While Trump and Kim Jong-Un talk about the nuclear buttons on their desks which may not even exist, we have to examine the real possibility of the denuclearization of North Korea.

Just about a month ago, North Korea performed a ballistic missile test, and the tension between the two Koreas seemed to intensify. However, on New Year’s Day, North Korea changed their mind to resume talks with South Korea by mentioning their willingness to participate in the Winter Olympics held in Pyeonchang, a South Korean city, next month. The South immediately responded to the North’s overture by suggesting they reopen the hotline phone in Panmumjeom, the Demilitarized Zone on the border. It has been closed since the ousted president of South Korea closed the Kaesong industrial complex in February 2016.


Both Koreas finally sat down and talked on Tuesday, something they had not done in over two years. They both agreed on the North’s participation in the Winter Olympics and the entrance of South and North Korean athletes at the Opening Ceremony under the peace flag. They also discussed the reunion of separated families.

Possibility of Denuclearization

The main outcome of the talks this time was the North’s participation in the Winter Olympic next month.

However, the possibility of North Korea denuclearizing is not highly likely. Despite the fact that North Korea started taking action to cooperate with South Korea, they still maintain the firm stance on the development of nuclear weapons as mentioned in Kim Jong Un’s speech: “the North would mass produce nuclear missiles for operational deployment and again warned he would launch a nuclear strike if his country was threatened.” [1]

Experts say that the North’s overture to thaw a relationship with the South is merely for finding a way out of international isolation and resolving sanctions against North Korea, not a step towards denuclearization.

Robert Kelley, a professor at South Korea’s Pusan National University, said in an interview with Reuters, “Participation in things like the Olympics are pseudo-concessions, because the North doesn’t actually have to give up anything.” [2]

At the end of the meeting on Tuesday, Ri Son-kwon, the chief North Korean delegate protested against South Korea’s motion to talk about denuclearization. He claimed that the South is spreading false information to the media that they were making progress on denuclearization through the meeting. He added that “all of the arsenals the North possesses are not intended for South Korea, Russia nor China, but the US,” reaffirming the North’s stance on denuclearization.

It has been proven for decades that North Korea’s policy in many ways is unpredictable. Therefore, it is hard to jump to either conclusion that they will change their mind again to stop the talks if denuclearization issue continues to come up in the future meetings or to accept the international expectation on denuclearization.

US and South Korea’s Response


While welcoming and actively participating in the talks with the North, South Korea still stays strong when it comes to their stance on the military side. Moon Jaein, the president of South Korea, said last Friday that he would take a tougher line with North Korea than his progressive predecessors and added on Wednesday that “sanctions will stay despite of the talks.”

Moon also gave Trump credit for bringing the talks between South and North Korea by saying "It could be a resulting work of the US-led sanctions and pressure." It is interpreted as a response to claims that North Korea is aiming to drive a wedge between the US and South Korea and Trump’s tweet:“does anybody really believe that talks and dialogue would be going on between North and South Korea right now if I wasn’t firm, strong and willing to commit our total “might” against the North.” [3]

Trump said he is open to talks with North Korea in the 30-minute-long phone call with Moon on Wednesday. As a prerequisite, the US might ask North Korea to take action on denuclearization before the talks happen. Attempting to resolve the sanctions and international isolation, North Korea might agree and continue on a reconciliation movement internationally along with denuclearization.

Amid the rising reconciliation between South Korea and North Korea, the US decided to postpone the annual joint military drill until after the Olympics. Trump reassured in the phone call that "there will be absolutely no military action as long as inter-Korean talks are ongoing," according to the statement from the South Korean government. [4]

It is certainly great progress considering that there had been zero talks between South Korea and North Korea. It is indeed a good initial step towards denuclearization although there are a lot of problems to be solved.

South Korea will continue to hold talks with North Korea through the restored hotline phone in the DMZ and through high-level meetings. South Korea and North Korea announced they will enter together with a unified peace flag at the opening ceremony of Winter Olympics.


  1. Kim, Christine. Brunnstrom, David. “North Korea agrees to talk to South after U.S.-South Korea postpone drills” Reuters. January 5, 2018

  2. Smith, Josh. Brunnstrom, David. “Analysis: North Korea's Olympic overture seen aimed at blunting international pressure” Reuters. January 2, 2018

  3. Trump, Donald (@realDonaldTrump). Twitter. January 4, 2018

  4. Merica, Don. “Trump tells Seoul he's open to talks with North Korea” CNN. January 2, 2018

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