Dangerous Semantics in the Trump Nuclear Era (UPDATE)
After “erroneously” having told supporters that North Korea had already returned the remains of 200 soldiers killed in North Korea during the Korean War (below) and that Kim Jong Un is “giving us back the remains of probably 7,500 soldiers,” Trump apparently experienced another semantics problem when North Korean officials failed to show up for a planned meeting with U.S, officials to discuss such a return, which may have been “the most tangible outcome from Pompeo’s trip,” according to Bloomberg.
In addition to the potential denuclearization of North Korea, this veteran agrees with Bloomberg that, at least so far, the return of our soldiers would be the most important and concrete result of the Singapore summit. Let us hope that there will no additional misunderstandings on this vital matter.
Even before U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s return visit to Pyongyang to hammer out the “nitty gritty details” of Trump’s “Nobel Prize-deserving” denuclearization agreement with North Korea, there were signs that all was not well in Trump’s newly discovered North Korean paradise. Signs that belied Trump’s proclamation that North Korea was already destroying a missile site; that Kim Jong Un had committed to a “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula and that “there [was] no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.” In other words, signs that Trump “took his victory lap a tad too soon.”
Leaked U.S. intelligence reports and an analysis of satellite data were already suggesting that North Korea might be “continuing its nuclear and missile activities” and experts claimed that North Korea had done nothing “consequential enough to be seen as a sign that the country is willing to fully surrender its nuclear weapons,” according to the MilitaryTimes.
Less than a week ago, the Military Times cited a report that unidentified U.S. intelligence officials had concluded that North Korea does not intend to fully surrender its nuclear stockpile:
Evidence collected since the Singapore summit points to preparations to deceive the U.S. about the number of nuclear warheads in North Korea’s arsenal as well as the existence of undisclosed facilities used to make fissile material for nuclear bombs, according to the report.
A U.S. official told The Associated Press that the report was accurate and “reflected the consistent view across U.S. government agencies.”
Without getting anything concrete in return, Trump reciprocated vague pledges by a deceitful and unpredictable regime with the “goodwill” suspension of military exercises with South Korea and (falsely) crowed that the U.S. had gotten back the remains of 200 soldiers killed in North Korea during the Korean War.
Perhaps a misunderstanding, perhaps semantics.
Just as we may have to chalk up to semantics the incongruity and differences between statements by Pompeo and by North Korea as to the success, or lack thereof, of Pompeo’s latest visit to North Korea.
According to Pompeo, the meeting was “productive,” having made progress “on almost all of the central issues.”
According to North Korea, the visit and the talks were “regrettable” and it accused the U.S. of making “gangster-like” demands aimed at forcing it to abandon its nuclear weapons
Perhaps Pompeo, who did not get to meet with Kim Jong Un, was referring to the lavish banquets and other culinary delights he and his staff were treated to during their stay, including “foie gras, turkey, pea soup, boiled oak mushrooms, kimchi, watermelon and ice cream…bowls of bananas, grapes, oranges and pears… in a country where much of the population lives in hunger…”
However, semantics becomes a deadly serious business when it concerns matters such as the Singapore agreement signed by Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, committing to work together to “build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.”
While I would not go as far as saying “It sure looks like Trump is lying about his agreement with Kim Jong Un” as Vox.com puts it, I tend to agree with Vox’s “It’s possible Trump doesn’t know what he agreed to.”
Vox.com points to the sentence in the Agreement, “Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” followed shortly afterwards by the “caveat: “[T]he DPRK commits to work toward (emphasis mine) complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Saying “it’s not just some picky semantic distinction,” Vox explains the signficant strategic difference between Kim committing to “the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula (which he did) and Kim committing to the complete denuclearization of North Korea (which he didn’t) …” and the semantic implications of North Korea’s promise of only working “toward” denuclearization.
It’s not surprising that something Trump said turned out to be false. But it’s very troubling if he is actually unaware of what he and Kim shook hands on.
If that’s the case, he may become disappointed and disenchanted with his diplomatic overtures to Kim. At that point, the threat of war becomes a real possibility once again.
Lead photo: Aircraft that took Secretary Pompeo to Pyongyang, North Korea. (State Department photo)