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Libya-style denuclearization a bone of contention between Washington, Pyongyang

This combination of file photos shows U.S. President Donald Trump, left, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on May 16, 2018, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a meeting with South Korean leader Moon Jae-in in Panmunjom, South Korea, on April 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Korea Summit Press Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON -- Differences between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over how to proceed with North Korea's denuclearization served as a factor in Trump's cancellation of a June 12 summit with Kim.

Washington is eyeing a "Libya style" process with a lumped settlement, while Pyongyang favors a piece-by-piece "salami style" approach, with guarantees that Kim's regime will be maintained and economic support offered along each step of the way.

In December 2003 Libya announced an agreement with the United States and Britain to give up all of its programs on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) including nuclear weapons development, chemical weapons and ballistic missiles. In return, economic sanctions on the North African country were lifted.

John Bolton, national security advisor for President Trump is now promoting this kind of "Libya style" denuclearization process. Bolton was a high-ranking State Department official responsible for the 2003 deal. Thomas Countryman, former acting undersecretary for arms control and international security, told the Mainichi Shimbun that Bolton wants to apply the Libya formula to North Korea because it was successful.

Such an arrangement, however, will deprive North Korea of its ability to win concessions from Washington through negotiations. Pyongyang is apparently worried that it will not be able to win the rewards it expects through this kind of settlement.

Another factor that played a role in the summit cancellation appears to be North Korea's sky-high pride in its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Pyongyang boasts that it is a "nuclear weapons power" with six test blasts under its belt. The country successfully launched domestically developed intercontinental ballistic missiles last year, and possesses large amounts of chemical and biological weapons.

In contrast, Libya's nuclear weapons program was at a very early stage, as stated by Mohammed El-Baradei, who headed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and visited the country for nuclear inspections. Missiles Tripoli possessed were short-ranged and aging SCUDs imported from the former Soviet Union and other places. Pyongyang perhaps felt insulted to be compared with Libya.

Moreover, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who was Libya's supreme leader, and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein at the time of U.S. invasion in 2003 were driven out of power and executed. For North Korea, whose ultimate goal is to maintain the current regime headed by Kim Jong Un, it seems that the word "Libya" was simply a taboo.

President Trump on May 17 said that Libya-style denuclearization is not under consideration now and repeatedly assured Pyongyang it would provide security assurances once the country agreed to denuclearization. However, Vice President Pence on May 21 suggested that North Korea may end up like Libya if it fails to abandon its nuclear weapons program. North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui slammed the remarks as "ignorant" and "stupid," leading to the announcement by President Trump to call off the summit.

(Japanese original by Haruyuki Aikawa, North America General Bureau)

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