In 2016, a government spokesman set out Pyongyang’s definition of denuclearization of the peninsula, explaining “this includes the dismantlement of nuclear weapons in South Korea and its vicinity,” a definition North Korean state media restated in December.
“The withdrawal of the U.S. troops holding the right to use nukes from South Korea should be declared,” it added. But does that mean all 29,000 American troops in South Korea, or only those that “hold the right to use nuclear weapons?” And does Pyongyang expect Washington to remove the nuclear-armed bombers and submarines stationed in the region?
In a New Year’s Day speech, Kim Jong-un demanded South Korea stop joint military exercises with the United States, adding that “the introduction of war equipment including strategic assets from outside should completely be suspended.”
Sung-Yoon Lee, a North Korea expert at Tufts University, believes Kim’s goal is to keep its nuclear weapons while negotiating for the removal of U.S. forces, and Moon’s liberal administration is playing into his hands by allowing him to “fudge” the question.
Shin Beom-chul of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies says the danger is that North Korea will demand U.S. forces withdraw at the final stage of negotiations, as a condition for finally dismantling its nuclear weapons. But by then, sanctions may have largely been lifted, leaving few levers to persuade Pyongyang to denuclearize.
But some leading U.S. experts like Robert Carlin and Joel Wit at the Stimson Center in Washington take issue with the idea that the North Koreans really want the Americans out. They point out that Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, told South Korean President Kim Dae-jung in 2000 that there was “nothing bad” about U.S. troops staying on in the peninsula after all sides sign a peace treaty, but only if their role was transformed to become “a peacekeeping army” rather than “a hostile force.” That stance was confirmed during various rounds of negotiations from 1992 to 2001, Carlin said.
[The Washington Post]