Elisabeth Eaves of Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists talks with Siegfried Hecker, one of the most well-informed experts on the US-Korean nuclear issues.
It was an extraordinary week in North Korean nuclear affairs.
First, high-level South Korean envoys met with the North’s leader Kim Jong-un, returning to Seoul with promises of an inter-Korean summit and other seemingly conciliatory statements. That news was quickly eclipsed, though, when later in the week, one of the South Korean envoys turned up in Washington with a personal invitation from Kim Jong-un to US President Donald Trump to meet him in Pyongyang.
Trump agreed to meet “at a place and time to be determined.” It would be the first-ever meeting between a sitting US president and a North Korean head of state.
But just as everyone was getting their heads around the idea that these two leaders – who just last year were threatening each other with nuclear destruction – would soon meet face to face, the White House added a caveat. On Friday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump would only attend if North Korea first took unspecified “concrete and verifiable steps.”
In case your head isn’t spinning yet, a Wall Street Journal reporter later tweeted that a White House official told him “the invitation has been extended and accepted, and that stands.”
As the Trump White House broadcast its internal confusion, the Bulletin turned to someone who could give the longer view. Siegfried S. Hecker is the former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and has visited North Korean nuclear facilities multiple times. We published several interviews with him as North Korea developed its nuclear program last year. (For his in-depth takes on Pyongyang’s recent weapon testing, see here, here, and here.)
We asked him what he made of this week’s events, and what they bode for the future.
SH: Nothing short of amazing. I did not expect Kim Jong-un to be willing to talk to Seoul first. It was a very clever move on his part to take advantage of Moon’s desire to engage diplomatically and help ensure a peaceful Olympic games. Kim’s invitation to Trump is not so surprising, since he had given hints of being ready to talk, and Moon teed this up nicely. The most surprising part is Trump’s acceptance.
Jan Oberg comments
As an aside to the essential and urgently important issue discussed in this BAS article:
This is an example of the many highly informative sources available to those who search the Internet. It illustrates well the contrast with mainstream media which, in the absence of solid expertise, have largely represented the issue as a kind of sports match and seen it in the perspective of who has “given in” and who is winning/losing.
A second approach, which is now commonplace, is to let one journalist interview another, none of whom are specialised in security or world affairs.
Why don’t these leading media use experts like Hecker and quote the BAS directly?
Third, virtually all mainstream media rely on what Western news bureaus have written about the issue which, naturally, is only one perspective. So, if you are interested in the formal North Korean view, you may now and then turn to The Pyongyang Times (which is among the many lised under Global News links here on The Transnational) – just to get a sense of how they think.