In Weapons Tests, North Korea Revives an Old Playbook, With a Strategic Twist – The New York Times

The Hanoi meeting in February abruptly ended when Mr. Trump rejected Mr. Kim’s suggestion that Washington lift the most painful of sanctions imposed against his country since 2016 in return for a partial dismantling of its nuclear weapons program. Mr. Trump wanted the quick rollback of the North’s entire nuclear weapons program.

After returning home without badly needed relief from sanctions, Mr. Kim said he would give Mr. Trump until the end of the year to offer a new proposal.

By gradually increasing the ranges of weapons tests in recent weeks, Mr. Kim appeared to be carefully calibrating his options with Mr. Trump. Firing short-range weapons may be an attempt to force a breakthrough in the stalled negotiations while not provoking Mr. Trump too far, analysts said.

Mr. Trump’s response early Saturday suggested that the tests had not dented his optimism.

“I believe that Kim Jong Un fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea, & will do nothing to interfere or end it,” he wrote on Twitter. “He also knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen!”

The long and tortured experience of negotiations with the North over its nuclear program is a familiar one. In an unusually candid interview in recent days with Michael J. Morell, a former deputy director of the C.I.A. who now hosts the podcast “Intelligence Matters” for CBS, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted that “the pattern and practice isn’t terribly different this time.” The statement was notable for an administration that has said its approach has diverged entirely from the incremental efforts of four previous administrations.

“It solely turns on whether Chairman Kim makes the fundamental strategic decision” to give up his weapons, Mr. Pompeo said, “the one he has told me a half-dozen times he has made, the one he has told the president a handful of times he has made.” If the process breaks down, he said, “we’ll obviously have to change paths.”

It would hardly be the first time a once-promising approach collapsed. President Bill Clinton’s signature initiative in 1994, after a nuclear crisis that came perilously close to resuming outright conflict on the Korean Peninsula, froze North Korea’s nuclear production for several years. But the North Koreans cheated, buying uranium-enrichment equipment from Pakistan and building an alternative pathway to a bomb, and Congress never fully delivered on its promises of fuel-oil and help in building proliferation-resistant nuclear reactors. When President George W. Bush took office, and confronted the North, a crisis ensued, and Mr. Kim’s father tested the country’s first nuclear device in 2006.

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