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“Today marks the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump tweeting that his “Nuclear Button” is “much bigger & more powerful” than Kim Jong-un’s. That was in response to the North Korean leader warning in his 2018 New Year’s address that the United States should be aware that “the nuclear button is on my office desk all the time.”
It’s almost hard to remember now that the prospect of nuclear conflict between the United States and North Korea seemed very real and imminent a year ago. At the dawning of this new year, we’re in a much different place. In his 2019 New Year’s address, Kim affirmed that he is “ready to meet the US president again anytime,” to which Trump responded, “I also look forward to meeting with Chairman Kim who realizes so well that North Korea possesses great economic potential!”
On the other hand, maybe things haven’t changed so much. A New York Times headline today suggests that Trump and Kim are “back at square 1.” After all, despite the historic meeting in June between the two leaders in Singapore, North Korea has not dismantled its nuclear program. In fact, analysts believe it is still building weapons and expanding facilities related to the program. Negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have been intermittent and tense, with few signs of any potential for a breakthrough on either the nuclear issue or on North Korea’s main aim: a peace treaty formally ending the 1950–53 Korean War. Kim’s speech this year wasn’t all sunshine. It also included the threat, which Trump seems to have decided to gloss over, that if the U.S. continues to “unilaterally enforce something upon us and persists in imposing sanctions and pressure against our Republic, we may be compelled to find a new way for defending the sovereignty of the country and the supreme interests of the state and for achieving peace and stability of the Korean peninsula.” He didn’t elaborate on what this “new way” might be, but it’s consistent with North Korea’s long history of vague and empty threats of violence.”
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