North Korea is a nuclear state. But can the U.S. accept that?

The Washington Post reports: Every time North Korea does something provocative — which is often — Washington insists that Pyongyang must give up its nuclear weapons program.

Just last weekend, days after North Korea launched its most high-tech intercontinental ballistic missile yet, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said that President Trump “is committed to the total denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Not that this line is confined to the Trump administration. The Obama and Bush administrations before it also repeatedly insisted that North Korea must denuclearize.

That might have been a realistic aim before Pyongyang could build a hydrogen bomb and missiles that can reach the United States. It’s just a matter of time before the North Koreans can put the two together — if they can’t already.

The Trump administration won’t admit it, but North Korea is now a nuclear weapons power, analysts say. Why would Kim Jong Un’s cash-strapped regime spend so much time and money on building these weapons only to give them up? And even if they were prepared to bargain them away eventually, why would they do so now, when Trump and his top aides are threatening military action?

“We’ve seen no indication in recent years that they are interested in denuclearization,” said Mira Rapp-Hooper, a North Korea expert at Yale Law School who was an Asia adviser to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. “So it’s difficult to rationalize how we are still so fixated on it.”

Vipin Narang, a nuclear nonproliferation specialist at MIT, agreed.

“It’s a fantasy that they’re going to willingly give up their nuclear programs so long as Kim is in power. He saw the fate of Saddam and Gaddafi — why would he give up his nuclear weapons?” asked Narang, referring to the former leaders of Iraq and Libya, both of whom are now deposed and dead.

Trump’s willingness to pull out of the international nuclear deal with Iran would only heighten North Korea’s mistrust of a negotiated denuclearization agreement with the United States, he said. [Continue reading…]

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