U.S. General: Korea Tensions Declining, But Few Signs Kim Will Give Up Nukes

(Bloomberg) -- The commander of U.S. forces in South Korea cited a “palpable” decline in tensions amid U.S.-North Korean peace talks but cautioned there’s little evidence that Kim Jong Un is willing to give up his nuclear arsenal.

“Today is Day 440 since the last strategic provocation” by North Korea through a missile or nuclear test, Army General Robert Abrams told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. That’s meant “a marked reduction in tensions” on the Korean Peninsula, he said, and a reduced risk of miscalculation.

While Abrams credited President Donald Trump’s talks with Kim, which will resume in a second summit meeting in Hanoi on Feb. 27-28, as contributing to the improved atmosphere, he offered little optimism that Trump’s efforts will lead to his goal of a nuclear-free North Korea.

“I remain clear-eyed,” Abrams said, adding that “little to no verifiable change has occurred in North Korea’s military capabilities.”

In a written statement to the committee, Admiral Philip Davidson, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, was even more direct, echoing a finding by U.S. intelligence agencies last month that Kim views his nuclear weapons as indispensable to maintaining his autocratic power.

“We think it is unlikely that North Korea will give up all of its nuclear weapons or production capabilities but seeks to negotiate partial denuclearization in exchange for U.S. and international concessions,” he said.

Meanwhile, the U.S.’s top envoy to talks with North Korea gave a cautious view on the upcoming Trump-Kim summit during a closed-door briefing with South Korean lawmakers visiting Washington, the Yonhap News Agency and other South Korean media reported.

Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun told a delegation led by National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang on Monday that there might not be enough time to resolve all issues in the two weeks before the summit, Yonhap said, without disclosing how it got the information. He said there was a chance the two sides could agree on a denuclearization timeline, according to Yonhap.

Biegun said that the two parties planned to draft a joint statement and narrow down their differences during the next round of working-level negotiations, the DongA Ilbo newspaper reported. The U.S. Embassy in Seoul said it was unable to confirm Biegun’s comments.

At the Senate hearing, Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, said the U.S. needed to be skeptical until North Korea offered a full inventory of its nuclear capabilities -- a demand the Trump administration has put off for later.

“North Korea’s made promises in the past,” Kaine said. “They’ve been willing to talk in the past, but the question of what shows progress. We’ve got to see some willingness to disclose.”

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