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Principles for a Trump Negotiating Strategy Toward Kim Jong-un

Larry Niksch

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

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Principles for a Trump Negotiating Strategy Toward Kim Jong-un

Larry Niksch 1

June 3, 2018

Published by the Institute for Corean-American Studies

President Trump will face at least four challenges if he meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The first is the limited amount of time for the meeting. This meeting is unlikely to run more than two days; two full days of negotiations and interactions between the two leaders may be optimistic. The other three challenges relate to the North Korean nuclear issue. Kim may make proposals to limit the scope of denuclearization. These could involve a proposal for an agreed upon freeze of nuclear and missile testing and/or restricting discussions of North Korea’s nuclear program to nuclear-armed inter-continental ballistic missiles that could strike the United States. Kim also likely will proposal new limits on the operations of U.S. forces in South Korea and the exercises of U.S. offshore forces related to North Korean contingencies. Kim, too, might press for early relaxation of a substantial number of United Nations sanctions in response to agreements on the nuclear issue—prior to implementation of such agreements.

President Trump needs a negotiating strategy for the summit that will provide for an effective U.S. response to any of these Kim Jong-un proposals. He also needs to present a plan containing the basic elements of denuclearization and U.S. responses to implementation of these elements. In a short, two days or less summit, the U.S. plan cannot be excessively detailed; but—very importantly--it must be detailed enough to make clear the content of each element and the outcome of each element.

It seems to me that President Trump could accomplish this by presenting a set of principles governing denuclearization that describes each element of a denuclearization process. President Trump could state these directly to Kim Jong-un and, most important, call for both leaders to sign a joint statement containing the principles.

If Kim agreed to issue such a joint statement, the summit would provide a clear outline for future negotiations on the nuclear issue. If Kim refused, President Trump and his advisers would gain evidence that North Korea intends to employ the same negotiating-diplomatic tactics of evasions, concealment, denials, and continual new demands that it used with the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations.

The following are my thoughts on the principles that President Trump should present to Kim. I have specified their application to North Korea’s nuclear program. However, they could be applied to the broader definition, “Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” if President Trump should decide to use that designation.

Principle One. Full Disclosure of the North Korean Nuclear Program: disclosure of the number of nuclear warheads; explosive power of individual warheads; models of the warheads (short range, intermediate range, long range); amounts of nuclear materials, both plutonium and highly enriched uranium; production facilities; research laboratories; testing sites. Disclosure to include the location of warheads, nuclear materials, and facilities. The President’s call for disclosure of the number, types, and locations of existing nuclear warheads is important to reassure U.S. allies, South Korea and Japan, that the Trump Administration will give full priority to North Korea’s existing arsenal of nuclear warheads for Pyongyang’s intermediate range Nodong missile, which threaten both Japan and South Korea. (The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency currently estimates that North Korea has about 60 of these warheads).

Principle Two. Verification: Empower the operation of the IAEA or another designated international inspection organization throughout the territory of North Korea—not just Yongbyon. Empower the inspection organization the right of inspection of any facility it designates. Empower the inspection organization to inspect facilities within a specific, short time limit after notification. Empower the inspection organization to use any legitimate means of inspecting facilities, including taking samples of materials for laboratory analysis. Grant the inspection organization access to all North Korean nuclear officials, scientists, and technicians for questioning.

It seems to me that President Trump should make the verification principle the big initial test for Kim Jong-un. Since 1994, North Korea consistently has rejected a verification-inspection regime that would have the authority described in the preceding paragraph. North Korea’s position has varied between periods of expulsion of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and periods when it allowed the IAEA to conduct limited inspections only at Yongbyon, the site of North Korea’s nuclear reactor and plutonium reprocessing plant. The three previous U.S. administrations either have agreed to these limitations or have accepted the expulsions, thus consistently undermining the IAEA.

President Trump needs to reverse the policy of undermining thorough international inspection of North Korea’s nuclear program. He needs to press Kim Jong-un to accept the principle of effective inspections throughout North Korean territory and accept an early establishment of the IAEA in North Korea with the authority described above. If Kim refuses, President Trump would know that the negotiating track with North Korea is futile.

Principle Three. Dismantlement of Nuclear Warheads, Materials, and Facilities Under International Inspection: destruction of production, testing, and laboratory equipment.

Principle Four. Removal of Nuclear Warheads and Materials to an Agreed Upon Third Country: the removal to be carried out by a designated international inspections organization.

Verification of the dismantlement and removal processes appear to be beyond the authority and capabilities of the IAEA. A new inspection organization would be required. Such a new organization must have complete authority to monitor dismantlement of facilities and take custody of nuclear warheads and materials. The United States should be a full member and participant. If the new organization is multilateral in composition, its rules must not allow one of its members the power to veto actions that other members want to take.

Principle Five. Return to Signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty As an Initial Step in the Process of Denuclearization.

Principle Six. Disclosure of All Nuclear Proliferation Activities: full disclosure of collaboration with Iran in developing nuclear technology, including designs for nuclear warheads that could be fitted on common missiles possessed by both countries. Agreement for cessation of North Korean nuclear and missile collaboration with Iran and Syria monitored by an international inspection organization.

Principle Seven. Possible U.S. Responses: These should include establishment of diplomatic relations and progressive relaxation of sanctions when the principles stated above are implemented, starting with full disclosure. At a minimum, President Trump should state to Kim Jong-un that he will offer concessions on sanctions and diplomatic relations only when the principles of full verification, dismantlement and removal of nuclear warheads and materials have been agreed to and implemented.

President Trump should state to Kim Jong-un that U.S. policy regarding changes in U.S. troop dispositions in South Korea and/or the number of U.S. troops is that changes would depend on the resolving of all the nuclear and non-nuclear issues that determine the missions of U.S. forces. Be prepared to state to Kim the specific military threats North Korea has posed to South Korea and Japan—nuclear and non-nuclear—that U.S. military operations and exercises are designed to help defend against and counter-attack or retaliate against. In linking denuclearization to the U.S. troops issue, President Trump should go no further than the position that the United States would be prepared to discuss with North Korea changes in U.S. military exercises only when the dismantlement and removal principles of denuclearization have been agreed to and when there has been significant implementation of these agreements. Moreover, he should be firm that South Korea must be a participant in any discussion of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea and the joint R.O.K.-U.S. military exercises.

Principle Eight. Requirement of a Comprehensive Freeze. If Kim Jong-un proposes a freeze limited to nuclear and missile testing, counter with a requirement of a “Comprehensive Freeze.” This to include a freeze on nuclear and missile testing but also a freeze of production of nuclear materials, nuclear warheads, and intermediate and long range missiles. The operation of nuclear research laboratories to be suspended. A comprehensive freeze to be recognized as implemented when a designated international inspection organization has secured full access to all such facilities in North Korea in order to verify that testing, production, and relevant facilities have ceased to operate. Any freeze must be linked to the full principle of verification.


These principles admittedly are a “tall order.” However, they are realistically necessary elements in any successful denuclearization. They also contain requirements that past U.S. administrations and their negotiators failed to secure. President Trump should present them as meeting the necessary requirements of denuclearization and correcting the U.S. mistakes of past negotiations.

To repeat my conclusion that, at the summit, President Trump should make the verification-inspection issue the key initial test for Kim Jong-un. If Kim should accept the principle of an effective, thorough verification mechanism, probably starting with the IAEA, and an early implementation of this, his acceptance would be a positive sign for the next round of nuclear negotiations. But if Kim reverts to North Korea’s long standing strategy of refusing to allow inspections throughout North Korean territory and refusing short notice inspections, this would signal clearly the futility of another nuclear negotiating track with North Korea. President Trump then would be justified in carrying out his warning to “walk away” because North Korea refuses to change its current nuclear course.

1 The author is a Fellow with the Institute for Corean-American Studies and a Senior Associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He formerly was a Specialist in Asian Affairs with the Congressional Research Service and an Adjunct Professor of East Asian Security at George Washington University. The views expressed are personal views and do not represent any official position of the above organizations.

This page last updated May 15, 2018 jdb