Maybe this is the beginning of something big. But it started off small.
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In the joint statement, North Korea did not commit to the complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear-weapons program—a longstanding demand of the Trump administration. Instead, Kim merely reaffirmed what he had already agreed to during his April summit with South Korean President Moon Jae In: to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” North Korea, in other words, committed not to denuclearization but to the goal of denuclearization. And even here, the aim is the “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.” For years now, the North has employed this protean phrase in an aspirational way to refer to a scenario in which it gives up its nuclear weapons in exchange for the United States: a) no longer protecting South Korea with the American nuclear arsenal and b) potentially ending the U.S.-South Korea military alliance and all dimensions of America’s “hostile” policy toward North Korea. Kim and Trump specified no timetable for denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.