A central message in Mr. Moon’s diplomatic efforts is that Mr. Kim truly wants to be a great economic reformer for his country, as Deng Xiaoping was for China decades ago, and that the world must not miss the opportunity. Mr. Kim, he says, intends to negotiate away his nuclear weapons if Washington lifts sanctions and provides security guarantees, like a peace treaty ending the Korean War, so he can focus on economic development.
”Chairman Kim told me that besides the moratorium on testing nuclear weapons and missiles, he would dismantle the facilities that produce them, as well as all the nuclear weapons and fissile materials his country owns, if the United States takes corresponding measures,” Mr. Moon said this month.
Even leaving aside the question of his true intentions, Mr. Kim is a difficult figure to vouch for.
He has indeed taken steps to reform his country’s economy, allowing markets and private businesses to open, giving farmers more freedom to sell their crops and factory managers more autonomy to decide what to produce. Despite international sanctions, he engineered a building boom in Pyongyang, the capital, which Mr. Moon called “remarkable progress” when he addressed a cheering crowd of 150,000 there in September.
Last year, Mr. Kim was following his father and predecessor Kim Jong-il’s “military first” playbook as he accelerated nuclear and missile tests and threatened the United States, as well as the region, with nuclear war. But this year, he announced a “new strategic line” under which “all efforts” would be channeled toward “the socialist economic construction.”
In less than a year, Mr. Kim has made more concessions on his nuclear weapons program than Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush ever extracted from his father — though critics say that in truth, he has given up little of substance. He imposed a voluntary moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests and shut down the North’s underground nuclear test site. He also agreed to dismantle some missile-test facilities and — if Washington took “corresponding” steps — to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear complex, a center for producing nuclear bomb fuel.