A document believed to be from the Workers’ Party of North Korea, obtained by Voice of America News and published on Monday, reportedly indicated dictator Kim Jong-un hoped the United States would formally recognize North Korea as a nuclear weapons state at the second summit meeting between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump.
The North Korean document contained a transcript of a meeting between Kim and senior military officials in November 2018, about three months before Kim would hold his second meeting with Trump in Vietnam. The tone struck by Kim in this meeting is quite different from his public statements endorsing denuclearization on the Korean peninsula. In the November meeting, according to the document, Kim told his military officers he wanted Trump to formally recognize North Korea as a nuclear weapons state.
During this meeting, Kim said the U.S. was “afraid” of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and was using negotiations as a pretext to “take away our nuclear weapons.” Rather than bargaining those weapons away, the North Korean dictator said he was determined to obtain international recognition as a member of the nuclear missile club.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry indicated on Monday it is working on determining the authenticity of the North Korean documents obtained by Voice of America.
The relatively optimistic take on the November transcript, assuming it is authenticated, is that Kim wanted to reassure military leaders that North Korea would retain enough nuclear weapons to ensure regime change remained off the table, even if the program to create long-range nuclear missiles was terminated.
Determining the exact state of politics in paranoid and reclusive Pyongyang is always difficult, but some analysts have theorized Kim is worried about appearing weak and inviting a coup attempt if he makes a humiliating bargain with the United States. Early in last year’s “diplomatic opening” to the West, Kim took pains to declare North Korea had achieved all of its nuclear weapons goals and was calling a halt to weapons testing because it was no longer necessary, not because Kim wanted to placate the United States.
The South China Morning Post speculated last summer that Kim’s goal all along was to obtain international confirmation as a nuclear power:
The Americans want immediate action on denuclearization. They recognize this will be a long and multi-step process, but they want to see Pyongyang take the first of these steps. Pyongyang, on the other hand, wants a “peace regime” established before any substantial steps towards denuclearisation. This involves a formal end to the Korean war (currently only in a state of ceasefire), a permanent peace treaty, and a “security guarantee” from Washington.
The US position is that a peace treaty should follow rather than precede the resolution of the nuclear weapons crisis. From Washington’s standpoint, there is no basis for “peace” until North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons. A peace treaty with a nuclear-armed North Korea would in a sense legitimize the country’s status as a nuclear weapon state, which Washington officially does not accept. Furthermore, a peace treaty could encourage premature sentiment in South Korea that the inter-Korean conflict is solved, and therefore US forces should withdraw.
North Korean state media on Monday called on Kim Jong-un’s subjects to “give precedence to the development of science and technology in terms of bringing hostile forces’ heinous schemes of sanctions and blockade to naught.”
The editorial in the Workers’ Party daily Rodong Sinmun explicitly rejected the idea of accepting economic incentives from the United States in exchange for dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
“If we transplant the imperialists’ subcontract economy, we will lose our economic independence even if we can flourish temporarily, and it will later destroy our ideas and institutions,” Rodong Sinmun railed.