North Korea will never fully give up nukes, says top defector

Whirlwind of diplomacy and talks will end with reduced nuclear threat, says ex-envoy

SEOUL • North Korea will never completely give up its nuclear weapons, a top defector said ahead of leader Kim Jong Un's landmark summit with United States President Donald Trump next month.

The current whirlwind of diplomacy and negotiations will not end with "a sincere and complete disarmament" but with "a reduced North Korean nuclear threat", said Mr Thae Yong Ho, who fled his post as the North's deputy ambassador to Britain in August 2016.

"In the end, North Korea will remain ‘a nuclear power packaged as a non-nuclear state'," he told the South's Newsis news agency.

His remarks come ahead of an unprecedented summit between Mr Kim and Mr Trump in Singapore on June 12, at which North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes are expected to dominate the agenda.

North and South Korea affirmed their commitment to the goal of denuclearisation of the peninsula at a summit last month, and Pyongyang announced at the weekend that it would destroy its only known nuclear test site next week.

South Korean President Moon Jae In welcomed the announcement yesterday, calling it an "initial step in the complete denuclearisation of North Korea".

But North Korea has not made public what concessions it is offering, and the South's JoongAng Ilbo daily pointed out that it had invited only journalists to witness the operation at the Punggye-ri site.

"It is regrettable that North Korea did not invite nuclear experts to the destruction of the test site," the daily said in an editorial. "If North Korea has really decided to denuclearise, it has no reason not to invite them."

Pyongyang has said it does not need nuclear weapons if the security of its regime is guaranteed.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has met Mr Kim twice, said he was "convinced" the North Korean leader shared US goals, and promised security assurances and bountiful American investment in the isolated nation.

But verification will be key. And Mr Thae, one of the highest- ranking officials to have defected in recent years, said:

"North Korea will argue that the process of nuclear disarmament will lead to the collapse of North Korea and oppose complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation (CVID)."

At a party meeting last month, Mr Kim proclaimed the development of the North's nuclear force was complete and promised no more nuclear or missile tests. He called its arsenal "a powerful treasured sword for defending peace".

"Giving it up soon after Kim Jong Un himself labelled it the ‘treasured sword for defending peace' and a firm guarantee for the future? It can never happen," said Mr Thae, who now lives in South Korea and whose memoir hit the shelves yesterday.

Japanese media said yesterday an unidentified high-level North Korean official arrived in Beijing, reportedly to brief China about Mr Pompeo's recent visit to Pyongyang, when he returned with three freed US detainees, the latest in the North's diplomatic overtures.

Pyongyang's sudden change in attitude was probably driven by the mounting international sanctions, which have included measures hitting sectors including coal, fish, textiles and overseas workers, Mr Thae said.

But it had a long history of making overtures that ultimately came to nothing, he warned.

"North Korea's diplomacy has always been a repeat of hardline and appeasement," Mr Thae said.

"It is North Korea's diplomatic tactic to push the situation to extreme confrontation and suddenly send peace gestures."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 15, 2018, with the headline 'North Korea will never fully give up nukes, says top defector'. Print Edition | Subscribe