The potential collapse of June talks between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, the US president, is a warning sign that the White House should refrain from championing the denuclearisation of Libya as a successful model for North Korea to follow.
The Korean Peninsula has enjoyed a surprise diplomatic détente for months, but Pyongyang has abruptly burst that bubble by threatening to pull out of the Singapore summit on June 12 if the US tries to push it into a corner over “unilateral” denuclearisation.
The outburst was not entirely unexpected. It was only a matter of time before a public rupture over two colliding views on what denuclearisation actually means could be expected.
Washington maintains its very high bar of “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation”, while Kim, in an April summit with South Korea, agreed to work towards the “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”, nuanced language that suggests he expects a mutual arms reduction.
The switch to a more hostile tone is likely also a powerplay – a predictable tactic from any strongman’s playbook, to raise the stakes before a negotiation.
A statement issued by Kim Kye Gwan, the deputy foreign minister, referring to the North as a “nuclear weapons state” is a telling reminder that Kim views himself as being on an equal footing with Mr Trump, or indeed any world leader, and demands that recognition.
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