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Here’s What The Trump Administration Saying About The Timeline For North Korean Denuclearization

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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President Donald Trump said Wednesday that there is “no rush” when it comes to North Korean denuclearization, a position in stark contrast with his administration’s earlier demands for rapid denuclearization.

The president’s tweet followed a statement the day before that there is “no time limit” on the process of denuclearization. “We have no time limit. We have no speed limit. We’re just going through the process. But, the relationships are very good,” Trump said Tuesday.

Prior to the Singapore summit in June, when the president met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the Trump administration clearly said that it expected the denuclearization process to begin immediately. “We are committed to achieving permanent, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction programs without delay,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in late April.

“The model that we have laid forth is a rapid denuclearization, total and complete, that won’t be extended over time,” Pompeo asserted before Congress in May. It was around that time that Trump appeared to waver in his convictions on the matter.

“I’d like to have it done immediately,” he said on Fox & Friends in late May, just weeks before the summit. “But, you know, physically, a phase-in may be a little bit necessary, we will have to do a rapid phase in, but I’d like to see it done at one time.” After the Singapore summit, Trump stated proudly, “We are starting that process very quickly — very, very quickly — absolutely.”

But, he then backtracked, suggesting that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula might not come quickly.

“It does take a long time to pull off complete denuclearization. It takes a long time,” the president said. “Scientifically, you have to wait certain periods of time, and a lot of things happen. But despite that, once you start the process, it means it’s pretty much over. Can’t use them, that’s the good news. That’s going to start very soon.”

The day after the summit, Pompeo set a distant deadline for denuclearization. Announcing that the Trump administration wants to see “major, major disarmament,” he said, “We’re hopeful that we can achieve that in the [two and a half] years.” (RELATED: Pompeo: US Expects To See Major Disarmament Steps From North Korea By End Of Trump’s First Term)

Toward the end of June, the secretary said that he would not put a “timeline” on North Korean denuclearization.

Contradicting the secretary, White House National Security Adviser John Bolton said at the start of July that there is a plan to achieve North Korean denuclearization within one year. “We have developed a program. I am sure that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be discussing this with the North Koreans in the near future about really how to dismantle all of their [weapons of mass destruction] and ballistic missile programs in a year,” he explained to CBS News.

“If they have the strategic decision already made to do that and they are cooperative, we can move very quickly,” he added.

Bolton’s comments aside, it seems that the Trump administration may be coming to a sobering realization about the difficulties of denuclearization, assuming that is even possible.

“Among Korea watchers, there has long been a general recognition that the process of denuclearization would be an extended one,” Dean Cheng, a senior research fellow with The Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center told The Daily Caller News Foundation. Speculating on some of  the possible explanations for the Trump administration’s changing rhetoric, he noted that the administration’s “rhetoric and its actions are often unrelated.”

Commenting that stating that there is “no rush” as other countries like Russia and China, countries that never fully implemented sanctions, undermine the maximum pressure strategy, could be seen as a “bad negotiating” tactic, Cheng pointed out that the president could suddenly demand that North Korea surrender a handful of nuclear warheads in exchange for continued dialogue.

He explained that the rhetorical shifts observed in recent months could be linked to differences between pre-summit posturing and dealing with the “devil in the details” in the aftermath of the Singapore summit. Calling attention to recent setbacks in talks with the North Koreans, Cheng suggested that the administration may be discovering that the North Koreans are tougher negotiators than initially expected. Nowhere is the more evident than the North’s handling of the return of U.S. war dead, which was expected weeks ago. (RELATED: It Looks Like North Korea May Finally Be Ready To Start Handing Over US War Dead)

Cheng emphasized that while there is “no rush” on denuclearization, there is also “no rush” to relieve sanctions on North Korea. The challenge going forward, though, will involve keeping other countries committed to putting pressure on North Korea. Both China and Russia have already called for the relaxing of sanctions, despite the fact that North Korea has yet to take any concrete steps toward the denculearization of the Korean Peninsula.

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