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Is Kim Jong Un for real?

If all the world had seen of Kim Jong Un until now was the smiling, tactile, affectionate young man who strolled nonc...

Posted: May 2, 2018 12:12 PM
Updated: May 2, 2018 12:12 PM

If all the world had seen of Kim Jong Un until now was the smiling, tactile, affectionate young man who strolled nonchalantly through the wooded glades of the demilitarized zone on Friday, it could be forgiven for thinking a merciless autocrat had been deeply misunderstood.

Friday's historic encounter between North and South Korea gave a world leader who has hitherto shunned the foreign media more camera time than ever before. Every mannerism, every lift of an eyebrow was studied and speculated upon.

For most of the day, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in were followed around by television cameras and photographers as they picked their way through a series of intricately choreographed scenes in Panmunjom, the "peace village" in the DMZ that was the venue for their talks.

There was the moment when Kim stepped into the South, across the demarcation line that separates the two Koreas (and Moon briefly stepped over into the North). Then they held almost two hours of talks in the morning, planted a symbolic tree, and strolled alone in a wooded area of the DMZ where they spoke without officials for 30 minutes.

They embraced, held hands, and traded pleasantries. Kim even thanked the media for coming.

Finally, in the late afternoon, the substance: The Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification on the Korean Peninsula, which commits the two countries to denuclearization and talks to bring a formal end to conflict between the two nations.

So can it really be possible that, after decades of mutual distrust that recently appeared to bring the two nations to the brink of war, a complete reversal is on the cards and that peace is a realistic prospect?

The big players who loom large over the Korean conflict appear deeply skeptical. Notwithstanding President Donald Trump's enthusiastic tweets ("Good things are happening, but only time will tell!") the White House statement was decidedly cool.

"On the occasion of Republic of Korea President Moon Jae-in's historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, we wish the Korean people well," it said. "We are hopeful that talks will achieve progress toward a future of peace and prosperity for the entire Korean Peninsula."

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could barely conceal his doubts. "I strongly ... hope that North Korea will take concrete actions. I will keep close eyes on North Korea's actions from now," he said. In other words, I'll believe denuclearization when I see it.

Some longtime North Korea watchers harbor significant doubts that there could have been any real transformation of the man who just under a year ago spoke of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the US mainland as a "gift package to the Yankees."

"How many pictures of him are there where he's at a nuclear facility at a missile test and he's smiling and happy?" asked Catherine Dill, a Senior Research Associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

"Just because he seems like a jolly man doesn't mean that his intentions are pure, or that he's unable to launch a missile again," she told CNN. "A lot of the summit, even if the true intention of President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un was to work towards peace at some point, there's a lot of pageantry involved. So in some sense, he was acting."

Security and nonproliferation experts nevertheless welcomed Friday's historic meeting as a significant achievement for Moon and his policy of engagement with North Korea. But while some progress may occur, some see the chances of denuclearization, at least in the sense that the West would understand it, as slim.

"The prospects of North Korea dismantling its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals remain as dim as ever," said Miha Hribernik, a senior Asia analyst at global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.

"Once the cameras are switched off and the enthusiasm over Friday's summit declaration -- which promises a peaceful and nuclear-free Korean peninsula -- subsides, both sides will need to roll up their sleeves and get to work," Hribernik said. "We continue to maintain our long-standing view that North Korea under Kim Jong Un has no intention of unilaterally denuclearizing without the kind of security guarantees South Korea and the US cannot realistically provide."

Hribernik wrote that the North Korean "sudden charm offensive" was designed to "extract as many economic and security concessions as possible while sacrificing as little as it can in return."

The devil is certainly in the details, agrees Catherine Dill. "It's a very overused term but in this case it's absolutely true, if denuclearization is on the table -- which in fact I'm skeptical it is even though it's mentioned in the joint declaration -- that is a very complex process that requires agreement on the tiniest of details and I'm skeptical we'll get to that point anytime soon."

"I think we should keep in mind that there have been a number of agreements in the past that have never been successfully implemented," said David Maxwell, retired US Army Special Forces colonel and a fellow at the Institute of Korean American Studies.

"We should be hopeful and encouraged by the events in Panmunjom (inside the DMZ), but we also need to keep a clear-eyed view of the nature of the Kim family regime, and the history of its aggression, threats and provocations, stated claim to unify the peninsula under the North's control, and the documented human rights atrocities that are being committed against some 25 million Koreans living in the North," he said to CNN.

"Can a one-day event change the nature of the brutal Kim family regime that has existed for some seven decades? We should never forget the people living in severe oppression in the north while we admire the charm offensive conducted by Kim Jong Un," Maxwell said.

For any future meeting with US President Donald Trump, a major takeaway from Friday's events was in the ease with which Kim Jong Un comported himself. He joked about the state of North Korean streets, and apologized beforehand to President Moon that he would need to come by plane when he should come visit the capital because the roads were so bad.

That self-assurance speaks to a larger challenge for Trump and Moon, said Catherine Dill. "To me, Kim Jong Un's confidence is much more indicative of his own confidence as a de facto nuclear power, it's much more indicative of that to me than a sincere desire for peace," she told CNN.

"Every day I watch North Korean TV and I read the newspapers and media, but actually, the propaganda work of North Korea is saying quite different things to its citizens," Thae Yong-ho, North Korea former deputy ambassador to the UK told CNN.

"It's saying that the current, this kind of peaceful atmosphere around North Korea is the direct achievement and outcome of the completion of nuclear weapons development."

It's unlikely the US will do anything to help Kim resolve economic challenges at home before North Korea shows is actively dismantling its nuclear program and allows inspectors in to carry out tests and verifications.

President Trump evinced his own continued skepticism even after Friday's momentous events. "After a furious year of missile launches and nuclear testing, a historic meeting between North and South Korea is now taking place," he tweeted later Friday.

Around an hour later, he tweeted his thanks to China, and President Xi Jinping, for all the help he had given the US, "particularly at the border with North Korea. Without him it would have been a much longer, tougher process!"

China sent congratulations on the "successful summit," while reinforcing its desire to be included in future talks. "We hope and believe that the North and South Korean sides will be able to implement the consensus reached by their leaders and continue to push for reconciliation and cooperation," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang.

"We hope all relevant parties keep the momentum of dialogue, work together to promote the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula as well as the process of a political settlement on the peninsula issue," Kang said.

China's President Xi Jinping is expected to visit Pyongyang, possibly before Kim meets with Trump. As the likely dates for a Trump-Kim summit approach, the stakes for the meeting grow ever higher.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 703345

Reported Deaths: 13194
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion959691716
Lake51222940
Allen38926670
Hamilton34288404
St. Joseph33770539
Elkhart27117431
Vanderburgh22034393
Tippecanoe21671212
Johnson17451374
Porter17206297
Hendricks16735310
Clark12657190
Madison12302337
Vigo12155244
Monroe11385166
LaPorte10800204
Delaware10312184
Howard9617211
Kosciusko9068113
Hancock7939139
Bartholomew7854153
Warrick7675155
Floyd7542176
Wayne6880198
Grant6773170
Boone6524100
Morgan6370138
Dubois6071117
Marshall5753108
Dearborn568075
Cass5671102
Henry5563100
Noble537983
Jackson492369
Shelby477795
Lawrence4332118
Gibson427389
Harrison426570
Montgomery416486
Clinton416053
DeKalb406684
Huntington376980
Whitley375539
Miami371465
Knox365389
Steuben362657
Putnam351960
Wabash346677
Jasper346146
Adams337652
Ripley333368
Jefferson311579
White307354
Daviess288899
Wells285180
Decatur278592
Fayette277062
Greene270385
Posey268333
Scott260553
Clay252244
LaGrange251470
Randolph234480
Washington230431
Spencer227431
Jennings224647
Fountain207745
Sullivan207342
Starke201952
Owen191856
Fulton190839
Carroll185620
Jay185529
Perry179536
Orange176553
Rush170324
Vermillion165743
Franklin165435
Tipton160943
Parke143816
Blackford132831
Pike130134
Pulaski113145
Newton102934
Brown99640
Crawford97014
Benton96213
Martin82415
Warren78915
Switzerland7698
Union69610
Ohio55511
Unassigned0405

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1048109

Reported Deaths: 18917
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1217031352
Cuyahoga1063982060
Hamilton779451165
Montgomery49883989
Summit45144907
Lucas39826760
Butler37638568
Stark31348894
Lorain24090472
Warren23835291
Mahoning20822583
Lake19915362
Clermont19397228
Delaware17972130
Licking16089206
Fairfield15646196
Trumbull15521459
Medina14815259
Greene14613236
Clark13576288
Wood12709184
Portage12313194
Allen11303229
Richland11017198
Miami10511212
Muskingum8688127
Wayne8543209
Columbiana8527226
Pickaway8421120
Marion8360135
Tuscarawas8359239
Erie7540153
Ross6692145
Hancock6683123
Geauga6527146
Ashtabula6458164
Scioto6280100
Belmont5591158
Union556247
Lawrence5458102
Jefferson5283147
Huron5270113
Darke5264121
Sandusky5164119
Seneca5093118
Washington5074107
Athens499454
Auglaize474884
Mercer470384
Shelby455089
Knox4371108
Madison421058
Putnam420298
Ashland412086
Fulton407966
Defiance399996
Crawford3858100
Brown385555
Logan372276
Preble369598
Clinton359659
Ottawa355478
Highland346059
Williams323274
Champaign318556
Jackson306951
Guernsey305848
Perry289349
Fayette276948
Morrow274439
Hardin263563
Henry263166
Coshocton258257
Holmes252699
Van Wert238662
Gallia233246
Pike232431
Adams227552
Wyandot226353
Hocking208958
Carroll188947
Paulding168538
Meigs141438
Noble132737
Monroe128841
Morgan106423
Harrison105336
Vinton81414
Unassigned02
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Temperatures start to climb back up on Friday as we'll see mostly sunny skies return to northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio.
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