Is North Korea playing Trump?
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Is North Korea playing Trump?

ON the same day the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency claimed North Korea is continuing to develop its nuclear weapons programme, a state-owned newspaper lavished praise on US President Donald Trump and called such accusations nothing but “fiction.”

The opinion piece published in Rodong Sinmun used language similar to that used by Trump himself to describe his efforts of reconciliation with the isolated regime.

The article called the handshake between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a landmark summit back in June, the “greatest event in the present century.” It also claimed the president “acted with his own decision and will” by going ahead with the meeting and praised him for “not wavering by the opposition’s offensive nor blindly following his aides’ view.”

The piece also said Trump was working towards “world peace” but was being hindered by having “too many rivals” back home in America.

SEE ALSO: Will they end the Korean War at the next inter-Korea summit?

Experts told The Independent the editorial appeared designed to manipulate Trump while drawing focus away from North Korea’s own unwillingness to work towards denuclearisation.

While acknowledging the current stalemate in negotiations, saying the “expectation and hopes of the world people into impatience and disappointment,” North Korea assigned blame for the deadlock to the “political scramble in the US” rather than its own failings.

Naoko Aoki, a research associate at the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland, told The Independent the North Korean regime has been “taking advantage” of clashes in US domestic politics since the 1990s, when Congress opposed a deal between American and North Korean officials.

The editorial “is trying to steer the process so that it is advantageous to North Korea, by appealing to President Trump,” she said.

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Bilateral meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Singapore Summit, June 12, 2018. Source: Kevin Lim/The Straits Times

Dr Hoo Chiew-Ping, a senior lecturer in Strategic Studies and International Relations at the National University of Malaysia, believes the article demonstrates the regime’s knowledge of US domestic politics and its ability to use this to their advantage in gaining leverage or squeezing concessions during negotiations.

“Trump can be easily manipulated because he enjoys having lavish praise bestowed on him, which in turn causes US foreign policy to divert away from many of the norms and principles that the West generally treasures: democracy, morality, humanitarian, and human rights,” she said.

But despite the Pyongyang’s protestations and attempts to divert attention, both US intelligence agencies and the United Nations have collected evidence to suggest Kim is continuing with his weapons programme regardless.

A report Monday from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) highlighted this failure to progress on promises made at the Singapore summit.

The report includes a detailed list of nuclear-related activities the agency believes are underway mainly at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Centre, one of the country’s major nuclear sites.

Detailed accounts of the evidence include, operations of a steam plant that served a radiochemical laboratory associated with nuclear fuel processing; ongoing mining, milling and other fuel activities at a site previously declared as a uranium mine and an associated plant; the use of centrifuge enrichment technology; and operation of the 5-megawatt experimental nuclear power plant including discharges of steam and cooling water.

SEE ALSO: Trump receives ‘nice letter’ from Kim Jong Un despite growing rift

North Korea called the accusations of continued nuclear development “fiction” designed at “derailing dialogue” between the two countries. It also claimed Pyongyang was “courageously fulfilling their promises.”

Trump himself seems inclined to believe the North Koreans, saying in an interview with Reuters on Monday that he believed Kim had done a lot to work towards denuclearisation since the June summit, but he failed to give any details.

The president also maintained his dealings with the regime had been a great victory, pointing to the absence of missile or nuclear tests from Pyongyang as a measure of the success.

“I stopped (North Korea’s) nuclear testing. I stopped (North Korea’s) missile testing. Japan is thrilled,” Trump said.

In the same interview, Trump suggested another meeting between the two leaders was likely to happen again but even he appears uncertain as to what the future holds, telling Reuters: “What’s going to happen? Who knows? We’re going to see.”