President Trump is prepared to offer North Korea full diplomatic relations in return for full denuclearization, Jonathan Swan and Mike Allen reported at the website axios.com. The US president “is willing to consider establishing official relations with North Korea and even eventually putting an embassy in Pyongyang,” the news site quoted US government sources, in return for denuclearization.
The trade-off of North Korea’s nuclear weapons in return for international legitimacy for the Pyongyang regime is an approach that previous US Administrations considered and rejected. But it is the only diplomatic strategy that has a chance of working. Pyongyang might accept Complete, Verifiable and Irreversible Dismantlement, or CVID, of its nuclear weapons stockpile in return for one thing and one thing only, and that is survivability of its regime.
Regime survival is North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s dominant concern. He also wants to leave open the possibility of unification under his family dynasty. Diplomatic recognition would make this possible at least in theory.
Kim did not come to the negotiating table because of tough American talk about regime decapitation. The North Koreans have heard such threats for years and are not impressed. Nor will economic sanctions sway the Pyongyang regime. North Korea’s economy has improved markedly since Kim took power six years ago. As economist Steve Hanke wrote recently in Forbes magazine, Kim has allowed “spontaneous ‘dollarization’ and ‘privatization’” of his country’s currency and economic activity. As a result, Hanke argues, North Korea’s economy is “more resilient and in better health than the press and experts assert.”