IF you believe the tweets of US President Donald Trump over the last week, then it would be easy to assume America and North Korea were close allies and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has dramatically shifted from murderous dictator to trustworthy, all-round nice guy.
On Thursday, Trump tweeted a “thank you” to Kim for proclaiming his “unwavering faith in President Trump” after a controversial book had people back home had people questioning Trump’s confidence.
Kim Jong Un of North Korea proclaims “unwavering faith in President Trump.” Thank you to Chairman Kim. We will get it done together!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2018
“We will get it done together!,” he proudly stated, referring to the denuclearisation of North Korea.
Following Pyongyang’s independence celebrations on Sunday, Trump took to Twitter to again thank Kim for holding the military parade “without the customary display of nuclear missiles.”
“This is a big and very positive statement from North Korea. Thank you To Chairman Kim,” he said.
“We will both prove everyone wrong! There is nothing like good dialogue from two people that like each other! Much better than before I took office.”
North Korea has just staged their parade, celebrating 70th anniversary of founding, without the customary display of nuclear missiles. Theme was peace and economic development. “Experts believe that North Korea cut out the nuclear missiles to show President Trump……
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 9, 2018
…its commitment to denuclearize.” @FoxNews This is a big and very positive statement from North Korea. Thank you To Chairman Kim. We will both prove everyone wrong! There is nothing like good dialogue from two people that like each other! Much better than before I took office.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 9, 2018
But observers have been quick to point out that, beyond shallow lip-service, Kim is yet to make any material action towards denuclearisation. In fact, evidence from the US intelligence community suggests Kim may be trying to hoodwink the US as his nuclear programme continues unabated.
Earlier reports have shown North Korea has been continuing its nuclear programme since the June Trump-Kim Summit at which both sides agreed to work towards denuclearisation.
But new evidence from NBC News suggests Kim has recently increased efforts to conceal the North’s nuclear activity from US intelligence.
According to three senior US officials, the North Korean military has built structures to obscure the entrance to at least one warhead storage facility since June.
The US has also observed North Korean workers moving warheads out of the facility. Though they cannot be sure where they are taking them, one official told NBC it is likely they are trying to evade US sensors.
It is a common tactic for the North Korean military to move equipment and weapons around in order to hinder foreign intelligence gathering.
Keep calm and carry on
Satellite imagery taken just nine days after the US-North Korea Summit also showed Pyongyang was pushing forward with improvements to the only known nuclear reactor used to fuel its weapons programme.
Images gathered by North Korea monitoring group 38 North show the rapid pace of improvements being made to the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Centre.
A secret underground uranium enrichment site, thought to have twice the enrichment capability of Yongbyon, was also discovered at Kangson.
At the current observed rate of activity, the US officials who spoke to NBC believe North Korea could produce five to eight new nuclear weapons in 2018.
prior to the Singapore summit, the intelligence community assessed the regime’s production at about six per year. Rather than slowing down, it may even be speeding up.
“Since the beginning of 2018, Kim has surrendered and dismantled no nuclear weapons, but has likely built five to nine new nuclear weapons,” Bruce Bennett, a senior defence researcher at the RAND Corporation and an expert in Northeast Asia military affairs, told NBC.
“So he has not frozen his nuclear programme and he has certainly not been denuclearising; instead, he has been nuclearizing.”
Kim, however, doesn’t see it this way and, according to a report carried by state media, he has “expressed frustration over the doubt shown by some parts of the international society about his will” to denuclearise.
“North Korea has been pre-emptively carrying out measures needed for denuclearisation, and Kim said he would appreciate that such good faith is accepted with good faith,” South Korea’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, told reporters a day after meeting Kim in Pyongyang.
But despite Kim’s disappointment, the evidence from intelligence sources and historic precedent is proving enough for some critics to question if the president is being duped by a con man.
Associate professor of political science at MIT, Vipin Narang, said on Twitter the only reason the intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) were not included in Sunday’s parade was that Pyongyang doesn’t “need to flaunt them anymore” and they were likely “too busy mass producing its warheads” to display them.
“They are not going to give them up, but they won’t rub it in your face,” he said.
North Korea was too busy mass producing its warheads and ballistic missiles to parade them. After the big reveal last year, why give us any looks or let us gather intel on them now? It was not progress. It was North Korea practicing smart opsec. https://t.co/v0q5v7XuR9
— Vipin Narang (@NarangVipin) September 10, 2018
Joshua Pollock, editor of the nuclear journal The Non-proliferation Review, thought the lack of ICBMs could be even more sinister, saying: “If the parades are seen as a substitute for missile testing, then the absence of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles is only the more striking.”
It looks like Trump and Kim might get another go a hashing out the details of any denuclearisation plan as The White House announced Monday that it is planning a second meeting between the two following a “very warm” letter sent by Kim to the US president requesting one.
Perhaps after this exchange, we’ll have a better idea if Trump’s tweet was right and they will, in fact, “prove everyone wrong!”