While the Americans were feasting on Turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, north Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un celebrated the day by overseeing a “successful test” of a super-large multiple launch rocket system. The state-run media reported that he expressed “great satisfaction” over the tests.
The tests involved two short-range missiles fired into the East Sea off Korea’s east coast. It is speculated that the latest launches were a new try-out of multiple rocket launchers that had already been tested three times based on reports from South Korea’s military.
Some see the tests as a “reminder” to the U.S. and President Donald Trump of a Dec. 31, deadline that Kim has given for the U.S. to show some “bend” in the stalled talks over the denuclearization of the Yongbyon nuclear site in exchange for the easing of some sanctions.
Stalled talks are nothing new between North Korea and the U.S. A 2012 deal fell apart after North Korea launched a rocket and displayed road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles at a military parade. From 2013 to 2016, Kim oversaw several ballistic missile tests of short, medium, and long-range missiles.
Trump’s inauguration in 2017 was the start of a new phase of the relationship that at times has been quite volatile. During the first year of Trump’s term, Pyongyang boasted about reaching U.S. soil with nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles. The new Trump administration reacted by threatening a military strike.
In May of 2018, Trump canceled a summit meeting to be held in Singapore but quickly reversed his decision. The meeting was held in June of 2018 where both leaders signed a joint statement pledging to pursue lasting peace and complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Later that year relations between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in seemed to warm up a bit when a summit was held. They signed a joint declaration outlining steps toward reducing tensions, expanding inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation, and achieving denuclearization.
The February 2019 summit in Vietnam quickly collapsed over sanctions relief. The result of the October 2019 Stockholm summit was a plan to hold additional summits. The “sticking point” is that Trump is asking more on the verification of nuclear disarmament and Kim refuses to have talks that he thinks serves only U.S. interests.
Assuming Kim’s year-end deadline is an artificial one that can be changed with a minor gesture from Trump, 2020 will prove to be an interesting year. Kim cannot be removed from his position as dictator of North Korea while Trump faces a possible impeachment trial in the U.S Senate plus an election campaign that will occupy a lot of his attention up to the November presidential election.