The Slatest

Trump Mistakenly Claims North Korea Has Agreed to “Denuclearization”

Donald Trump gives a thumbs up before boarding Air Force One.
President Donald Trump makes his way to board Air Force One before departing from Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Thursday.
Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

President Donald Trump took yet another shot at the media on Sunday, this time aiming his fire toward “sleepy eyes” Chuck Todd from NBC. A day after he criticized the New York Times and the Washington Post, the president was mad Sunday morning after Todd said, according to Trump, “we have given up so much in our negotiations with North Korea, and they have given up nothing.” The truth, Trump went on to write on Twitter, was exactly the opposite. “We haven’t given up anything & they have agreed to denuclearization (so great for World), site closure, & no more testing!” Trump said.

Does Trump know something the rest of us don’t? Or is he just confused about what denuclearization means and what North Korea has said? On Friday, North Korea said it would suspend nuclear and ballistic missile tests before a planned summit with South Korea. But North Korean leader Kim Jong-un never actually pledged to get rid of the country’s existing nuclear weapons and missiles.

Analysts have struck a cautious tone over the promises precisely because North Korea has made similar promises in the past and they never amounted to much. “North Korea has a long history of raising the issue of denuclearization and has committed to freeze its nuclear weapons programs in the past. We all remember how those pledges and commitments went down over past decades,” Nam Sung-wook, a professor of North Korean Studies at Korea University in Seoul, told Reuters.

Trump’s tweet is also a reminder that North Korea’s Kim often means a very different thing when he refers to denuclearization than South Korea or the Western world in general. Whereas the United States and South Korea have long said denuclearization means dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program, North Korea’s Kim has talked about denuclearization of the entire Korean peninsula.

When Trump criticized Todd, he appears to have been referring to this segment:

With his response, Trump makes it clear he doesn’t think he has given up anything to North Korea seemingly without realizing that sitting down for talks in and of itself is a victory for Kim. With his seeming concessions, Kim will be heading to the summits with a recognition from global powers that North Korea is a nuclear nation, which is something the country has long wanted. As one analyst told Axios on Saturday, the issues North Korea says it is willing to discuss, “amounts to “all the trappings of a ‘responsible’ nuclear weapons state (which is what they ultimately wanted to be accepted as).”

In a second tweet Sunday, Trump made clear he knows the North Korean nuclear issue is a long way from being resolved, in a rare note of caution for the commander in chief. “We are a long way from conclusion on North Korea, maybe things will work out, and maybe they won’t—only time will tell,” Trump wrote on Twitter.