STRASBOURG – Ahead of the landmark upcoming meeting between US President Donald J. Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, the European Union is accessing the latest developments on Korean Peninsula as all parties are looking for a path to ensuring peace in the Asia-Pacific region, but Pyongyang will not accept a full disarmament of its entire arsenal of nuclear weapons, British MEP Nirj Deva, who is the chairman of the European Parliament’s Delegation with the Korean Peninsula, told New Europe in an interview in Strasbourg on April 18. Deva, who has travelled to North Korea and spoken to top officials in Pyongyang, said the meeting between Trump and Kim “is a great opportunity for peace in East Asia and for peace between the United States and North Korea.”

Deva noted that negotiations were possible with North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, “but managing expectations is the name of the game now. If Trump wants instant de-nuclearisation of the entire arsenal of nuclear weapons, I know. because I have been talking to the North Koreans – that’s not on the table. They will not give that. What I will suspect is they will agree to a freeze, then gradual denuclearization that will be authenticated and verified by us, the United States, and the EU,” said Deva. “However, if he (Trump) insists on instant (de-nuclearisation), I think we run into trouble and if the talks fail the alternative is too catastrophic to think about. So I think we need to take this one step at a time, step by step, confidence building, authentication, verifiability and trust,” Deva added, who was accompanied by Antoine Bondaz, a research fellow that has also travelled to North Korea from the Fondation Pour la Recherché Stratégique.

While talking with North Korean leaders, Pyongyang’s officials told Deva that they are afraid if they give up their nukes they might have the same fate as Iraq’s Saddam Hussein or Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi who did not have nuclear weapons as a deterrent to the West’s past campaigns for regime change. “They have said that to me repeatedly,” he quipped.

South Korean and US soldiers stand guard at the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom, north of Seoul, South Korea, April 19, 2018. Historic inter-Korean summit talks will take place in the building on April 27, 2018. EPA-EFE/YONHAP

Asked what assurances the North Koreans can get and what role the EU could play to assure that the promises are upheld, Deva said, “That’s the 64-thousand-dollar-question,” referring to the 1950’s American game show broadcast. “That is the key issue – how to convince them to trust that we mean what we say and we will not going to do something else. The North Koreans see this nuclear program not only as a defensive deterrent; they see it as an identity thing. They are now seeing as a country with nuclear weapons demanding respect,” said the chairman of the European Parliament’s Delegation with the Korean Peninsula.

“We need to understand all that when we sit at the table, we need to understand the red lines that they have but also they have to understand the red lines the United States has. It will mean a great triumph of diplomacy for Trump to instantly agree to talks without preconditions,” Deva said.

The negotiations, however, will not be entirely up to either Kim or Trump, as the other key players involved in the Korean issue – China, South Korea, and Japan – are likely to want to have a say in any final agreement on Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.

“China is concerned that it doesn’t want a humanitarian crisis, a refugee crisis, and even a nuclear exchange on its borders. But more importantly Japan is concerned that they are vulnerable to short-range and medium range missiles. They’re not worried about the ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles), which have flown over them on several occasions,” Deva said. “We need to understand their concerns, too, and include that in the negotiation process. South Korea has now extended a hand of friendship to their fellow Koreans,” he added, in reference to the 2018 Winter Olympics where the two Koreas competed as a unified team in South Korea.

“The summit meeting between President Moon (Jae-in) and North Korean leader Kim will be a bonding session where South Korea, I think. will play the role of the honest broker between the North and the United States. And in that capacity South Korea has a huge role to play in making sure that everything is done step by step verifiably,” said Deva.

Regarding the EU involvement, Deva noted that High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission Federica Mogherini has been extremely active in making sure the sanctions are imposed and the sanctions worked and will bring to the table her extensive knowledge of the nuclear issue after having dealt with the process of curbing Iran’s nuclear programme,”which she can  use with the Korean situation once the talks start and verification begins,” Deva said.

The EU can play a key role in talks as well as help with North Korea’s development if the nuclear talks are successful, according to Deva, who added that the European Union could capitalise on helping North Korea become a part of the international community as part of the goodwill shown by all sides if a de-nuclearisation programme succeeds.

“We need to help North Korea with development; help them to be better off because they are not a country that is at all rich. There are perhaps a million people who are living a sustainable life and 20-odd million people who are without enough food. This is a role for the EU Development Committee…to play a part in helping the North Koreans from a humanitarian point of view,” Deva said.