Kim Jong Un, Saddam Hussein & Moammar Gadhafi
By Richard S. Ehrlich
BANGKOK, Thailand -- North Korea's Kim Jong Un learned from Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi that nuclear weapons protect his survival, and will disarm only if President Trump withdraws American forces and ends the U.S.-South Korea defense treaty, said James Trottier who led diplomatic efforts in Pyongyang.
North Korea agreed to "site closure, & no more testing!" Mr. Trump tweeted on April 23 after Pyongyang announced on April 21 it would halt developing and testing nuclear weapons.
Pyongyang however made no mention of dismantling thermonuclear warheads and developmental ICBMs it supposedly possesses.
"North Korea views its nuclear capacity as a deterrent, not as a means to launch a suicidal strike resulting in their total destruction. The North Koreans are not jihadists seeking some afterlife," Mr. Trottier said.
"For Kim, basically nuclear weapons are key to his survival. He's learned the lessons of Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi -- what happens when WMDs [weapons of mass destruction] are bargained away."
When Mr. Trottier was accredited to North Korea he led four Canadian diplomatic delegations to Pyongyang in 2015 and 2016. He was also a diplomatic liaison officer to U.S./U.N. Forces in South Korea.
The former career Canadian diplomat directed political and economic diplomacy at Canada's embassies in South Korea and Southeast Asia, and served at Canada's permanent mission to the United Nations in New York.
"The only remote possibility for this [total denuclearization] would be at a price that would probably be politically unacceptable to the U.S. and its allies," said Mr. Trottier who is now a lawyer and Canadian Global Affairs Institute fellow.
"It's the 'security guarantee' part which the North Koreans mentioned to the South Koreans, which always seems to be dropped from the [news] coverage of the Trump-Kim upcoming summit."
To satisfy Mr. Kim, that guarantee must include withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Korean peninsula and cancellation of the Washington-Seoul mutual defense treaty.
Previous U.S. presidents rejected those North Korean proposals.
Major fighting in the 1950-53 Korean War by the U.S., North Korea and other forces ended with the peninsula partitioned by an armistice, without a peace treaty between Washington and Pyongyang.
In recent months, Mr. Kim denounced Mr. Trump as a senile, elderly "dotard" while the U.S. president mocked the North Korean leader as "little rocket man."
"Kim Jong Un and the North Korean leadership are not irrational. On the contrary, they are coldly rational and committed to the regime's survival by making North Korea a nuclear weapons state," Mr. Trottier said, speaking at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand during a recent analysis of a Trump-Kim summit.
The north's vulnerability is its ruined economy, shattered by U.S.-led international sanctions.
To ease sanctions, Mr. Kim may be now agreeing to pause development and testing new nuclear weapons while deeper issues are tackled later.
"There is no good military option for the U.S.," Mr. Trottier warned.
"A major pre-emptive [U.S.] strike on North Korea would result in a retaliatory attack on South Korea -- on Seoul and possibly beyond -- with the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Koreans, billions of dollars in damage in South Korea and a risk of a full-scale war.
"With North Korea's thousands of conventional artillery pieces, camouflaged in mountains within 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Seoul, it's very unlikely that American and South Korean bombers could destroy these batteries before they've laid waste to much of Seoul," Mr. Trottier said.
To ease tensions, Pyongyang could downplay its existing nuclear weapons, said Balazs Szalontai, a Seoul-based Korea University associate professor of North Korea's foreign policies.
"The U.S. and South Korea might try to persuade North Korea to behave like those medium nuclear powers that possess deliverable nuclear weapons but rarely, if ever, make any threats and generally don't even mention their nuclear capability in their ordinary interactions with other states -- like Britain and France," Mr. Szalontai said in an interview.
"Those countries would be also absolutely unwilling to dismantle their nuclear weapons, but their neighbors have no reason to regard them as a nuclear threat," he said.
"In South Korean political psychology, there is also a deeply embedded fear of U.S. abandonment, rooted in the memory of the Korean War. As many or most South Koreans see it, the 1949 withdrawal of U.S. troops was the factor that encouraged North Korea to launch an attack in 1950.
"Such fears were periodically revived in the 1960s and 1970s whenever the U.S. planned or actually implemented a partial troop withdrawal, or reacted passively to Pyongyang's confrontational acts," Mr. Szalontai said.
Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978 and winner of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including "'Hello My Big Big Honey!' Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews," "60 Stories of Royal Lineage," and "Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News Since 1946." Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the chapter "Ceremonies and Regalia" in a book published in English and Thai titled, "King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective." Mr. Ehrlich's newest book, "Sheila Carfenders, Doctor Mask & President Akimbo" describes a female mental patient who is abducted to Asia by her San Francisco psychiatrist.
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