In an announcement that should surprise absolutely no one, North Korea has ruled out a Libya-style agreement on its nuclear weapons program:
North Korea said it is rejecting Libya-style denuclearization, the North’s state media said on Wednesday.
It also says it will need to reconsider negotiations with the U.S. if the Trump adminstration insists on it giving up its nuclear program.
Citing first vice minister of foreign affairs Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea’s central news agency also said the fate of the U.S.-North Korea summit as well as bilateral relations “would be clear” if Washington speaks of a Libya-style denuclearization for the North.
This latest statement from North Korea should make plain that its government has no interest in denuclearization on terms that would be satisfactory to the Trump administration. That doesn’t come as news to anyone paying the slightest attention to North Korean public statements from recent years, but its importance cannot be overstated. North Korea’s government has taken the deal made with Gaddafi as a cautionary tale of what a government should never do, and they have cited Gaddafi’s grisly end as proof that they have been right to press ahead with their nuclear weapons program instead of disarming. Everyone knew that North Korea would never accept a “Libya-style” arrangement, and that is why Bolton’s frequent references to imitating the deal made with Libya have been so worrisome.
As long as the administration insists on “complete, verifiable, and irreversible” denuclearization, it is difficult to see what agreement the U.S. and North Korea could reach in the months and years to come. Disarming North Korea of its nuclear weapons is and has long been an unrealistic goal, and if the U.S. wants to get anything out of talks with North Korea it should be willing to settle for much more modest concessions. Diplomacy with North Korea is definitely the right way forward, but the administration and all other parties have to approach negotiations with the understanding that North Korea is going to remain a nuclear-armed state for the foreseeable future. Once that is understood and accepted, the U.S. and its allies may be able to secure important limitations on North Korea’s weapons and missile programs and it makes real progress towards a lasting peace treaty possible. If the U.S. and its allies can’t or won’t accept this, the standoff from last year is very likely to resume and grow much worse. That is probably what Bolton and other hard-liners are counting on, and we have to hope that they are disappointed.