In a surprising twist of fate, North Korea has agreed to stop demanding US soldiers be removed from South Korea as a condition for considering denuclearization. Kim Jong-un’s decision to be open-minded comes after intense peace talks between the North Korean government and South Korean leader Moon Jae-in, part of which included North Korea’s participation in the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang.
• Jong-un’s shift in approach is surprising for a few different reasons. First, North Korea has categorically refused to even approach the possibility of denuclearization in recent years, citing fears of retaliation from neighboring countries as a significant motivator for continued development.
• The US Government maintains approximately 28,000 troops in South Korea, something Jong-un has called “hostile” in the past. An additional 50,000 US troops sit at the ready in nearby Japan, and regularly engage in training exercises with both Japanese and South Korean militaries.
• North Korea and South Korea have been involved in significant negotiations for peace over previous weeks after years of technically being at war with one another. Jong-un, who trusts Jae-in far more than US leaders at this point, has managed to make significant progress with the militant leader.
• While the US and North Korea haven’t directly met just yet, a summit between the two nations is planned for next week. Jae-in’s efforts are aimed at smoothing over areas of contention before that summit, ensuring the best opportunity for success. Their main goal is to get North Korea to drop the nuclear arms development industry altogether.
• Although Jong-un is agreeing to drop the condition in his consideration of denuclearization, he has yet to fully agree to denuclearization. Instead, Jae-in called it a “willingness” to consider the option – still excellent progress in a years-long battle between all three nations.
• Despite dropping this specific condition, North Korea still has other requirements and demands on the table. Jong-un has requested that the US provide guarantees of safety and an end to “hostile policies” against his country, something that may be much easier for the US to agree to than pulling out of Seoul.