People watch a screen displaying a news broadcast of of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meeting at the DPRK-U.S Singapore summit, at Seoul station in Seoul, South Korea. (Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg)

North Korea Says U.S. Nukes Must Also Go for Regime to Disarm

(Bloomberg) -- North Korean state media said removal of the U.S.’s nuclear weapons from the region was a condition of its own disarmament, raising the stakes for President Donald Trump’s efforts to hold a second summit with Kim Jong Un.

A commentary published Thursday by the state-run Korean Central News Agency said the two leaders agreed in June to work toward the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” not only North Korea, as U.S. officials often assert. The piece was the clearest sign yet of differences over the term, which was not defined in the 1-1/2-page statement signed by Trump and Kim in Singapore in June.

“When we say ‘the Korean Peninsula,’ we mean the entire peninsula that includes our territory and the South Korean region where U.S. invasionary weaponry stands,” the commentary said. “When we say ‘denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,’ it means that all factors that hold a nuclear threat for all regions surrounding the Korean Peninsula are removed, not just within North and South Koreas. The U.S. must clearly know this.”

The piece also urged the U.S. to relax economic sanctions against the regime, saying it would be a show of good faith. “Measures, such as an end to the hostile policy toward North Korea and the lifting of unfair sanctions, are things the U.S. can do without lifting a finger, if they want to,” the report said.

The criticism added new tension to a South Korea visit by the U.S.’s North Korea envoy, Stephen Biegun. It came on the same day he traveled to observe efforts by the two neighbors to lower tensions on their militarized border.

Fraught Diplomacy

The commentary puts a greater spotlight on the U.S.-South Korea alliance as Trump pursues another summit with Kim, which the president said could come as soon as next month. While the U.S. removed its land-based nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991, the nation operates nuclear-armed bombers from its base in Guam that can reach Korea, as well as submarines armed with nuclear missiles.

North Korea Says U.S. Nukes Must Also Go for Regime to Disarm

Talks have made little progress since the Singapore summit amid disputes over the pace and sequence of steps to denuclearize and formally end the Korean War. Arms control experts have for months cautioned that the Trump administration’s failure to secure a definition for “denuclearization” had sewn the seeds for future disputes.

At the same time, U.S. officials including Secretary of State Michael Pompeo have routinely described a broader version of the agreement. “I expressed in our meeting today the importance of remaining united in pursuit of a final, fully-verified denuclearization of North Korea, as agreed to by Chairman Kim in Singapore,” Pompeo said during a meeting with Chinese officials last month in Washington.

North Korean statements have repeatedly criticized the approach by Pompeo -- Trump’s point man on talks -- and urged greater reciprocity from the U.S. side. The latest complaints bolster South Korean arguments that Kim needs greater security guarantees from the U.S. before progress on disarmament can be achieved.

“We are the first on the list for a U.S. preemptive nuclear strike, and we don’t have any guarantee of safety,” the commentary said. “So if we lay down our nukes first, that is not denuclearization, but putting us at a state of being defenseless. So this is not only getting rid of the balance of strategy in nuclear forces, but also bringing about a nuclear war.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.