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US offered to help North Korea build up tourist area in exchange for denuclearization: report

North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. (Bjørn Christian Tørrissen/Wikimedia Commons)
October 21, 2019

The U.S. reportedly offered a long-term plan to help North Korea develop a tourist area in return for denuclearization during recent working-level talks in Stockholm that ended with the North side walking out, according to a new report.

American negotiators had drafted a plan to help build up the Kalma tourist area, the South’s Hankook Ilbo newspaper reported Saturday, citing an unidentified top South Korean diplomat. The report didn’t say how the North Koreans responded to the offer, but chief nuclear negotiator Kim Myong Gil portrayed the U.S. as inflexible after the talks earlier this month, blasting the Americans for not giving up “their old viewpoint and attitude.”

Experts have said the North has put a priority on having suffocating U.S.-led U.N. sanctions eased before taking further steps toward denuclearization. The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly said the North can only have access to “a bright future” when it first abandons its nukes.

Trump, a real estate magnate himself, has alluded to the “great beaches” of the Wonsan-Kalma tourist area as a way North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could develop his country economically — if it relinquishes its atomic arsenal.

Speaking after his landmark Singapore summit with Kim in June last year, Trump was effusive about area’s potential.

“I said, boy, look at that view,” he said at the time. “Wouldn’t that make a great condo? And I explained, I said, ‘you know, instead of doing that you could have the best hotels in the world right there. Think of it from a real estate perspective. You have South Korea, you have China, and they own the land in the middle. How bad is that, right? It’s great.’”

Kim has been pushing to complete the resort’s construction, initially setting a deadline of this month, but later extending that to next April to coincide with the Day of the Sun, the birthday of the North’s founder and Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung.

While rapid construction on the site has been ongoing since last year, the North Korea-watching website 38 North in May reported “dramatic and remarkable changes” to the area, which consists of a huge complex with hotels, a marina, a sports complex, waterslides and more.

Kim highlighted the project in his annual New Year address and is reported to have visited the area — which in the past has hosted large-scale military exercises — numerous times.

Some experts, however, pointed out that Kim could view the U.S. proposal as nothing more than an opening for forces hostile to his family dynasty to plant their roots in the isolated country.

“It boggles my mind that we think Kim will see a western developed resort in NK as a reward, rather than a threat to his rule,” Vipin Narang, a North Korea expert and professor of international relations at MIT, wrote on Twitter.

In a possible sign of the North Korean leader’s dissatisfaction with the direction of the U.S. negotiations, Kim made another trek — this time atop a white steed — to the summit of the country’s most sacred mountain, a move that has typically surrounded key events and major leadership decisions, according to analysts.

It’s unclear what decisions may be in the cards for Kim, but in April, he set a fast-approaching year-end deadline for the United States to make a “bold decision” in the nuclear talks, or risk the complete collapse of the negotiations — and likely a return to 2017 levels of missile and nuclear tests.


© 2019 the Japan Times