It’s been a little more than three months since North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un and United States President Donald Trump met in Singapore in a historic summit aimed at curbing Pyongyang’s rush to join the nuclear club and its attempts to miniaturise a weapon and deliver it on an intercontinental ballistic missile. Certainly, on June 12, the very fact that the leaders met was a breakthrough for two men who had previously appeared on the path to confrontation.
Critics of that summit say that there was little to show for the photo op and handshake and that North Korea has not altered its nuclear ambitions. Perhaps, not, three months on, that’s a perspective that’s not entirely disingenuous, even if Pyongyang has destroyed the site of its nuclear testing programme in the mountains northeast of the hermit capital.
While Trump has tweeted a steady stream of praise for the North Korean leader, there seems also to be a steady stream of evidence suggesting that Pyongyang is still working on its nuclear weapons programme — clearly at odds from the sentiments expressed and celebrated at Singapore. And right now, the administration is Washington is reviewing the latest information in the North Korean dossier.
Certainly, when it comes to public expressions, Pyongyang has adopted the stance of abiding by the commitment that Kim gave on June 12 under the glare of the assembled media corps. Last week, for example, the annual military parade to honour the founding of the nation seven decades ago did not feature any mobile missile launchers or ballistic missile launch vehicles in its ranks of goose-stepping soldiers, heavy artillery, personnel carriers and ageing battle tanks.
Casual observers might have viewed the absence of missile launch vehicles as an outwardly positive sign. The reality, though, is that the latest intelligence reports, senior US officials say, point to Pyongyang working to conceal its nuclear activities. That Trump had previously cancelled a visit to North Korea by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo points to all not being well when it comes to Kim and his commitments.
Satellite evidence also points to increased activity at a nuclear facility, with workers being observed moving warheads, but the officials could or would not say to where those weapons of mass destruction were being moved. What’s worrying is that there appears to be an element of subterfuge in the regime’s actions, and that’s a property that sits poorly when it comes to building up trust after decades of close-quarter tensions across the De-Militarised Zone.
It’s one thing to stage a summit and photo op in Singapore, another to actually disengage from a nuclear programme. The North Korean leadership is saying one thing, while the intelligence reports suggest another — and that is indeed worrying.