The Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party has decreed that North Korea will not relinquish its nuclear arsenal, which it termed a “precious legacy” of the country’s late leaders, according to local sources, despite an earlier pledge by party chairman Kim Jong Un to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
Kim held historic talks with South Korea’s Moon Jae-in in April, as well as an unprecedented summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in June, and agreed—in principle—to abandoning the North’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for promises of regime security and economic prosperity.
But a lack of any concrete agreement on steps to denuclearize and recent reports that progress on talks have slowed, combined with indications that North Korea’s ally China has continued to send fuel into the country to ease economic strains caused by international sanctions, have prompted questions over how sincere Pyongyang is about abandoning its weaponry.
A source from North Korea’s North Hamgyong province, along the border with China, recently told RFA’s Korean Service that the country’s leadership cabal has no intention of entirely ditching the nuclear program it had taken decades to build.
“In early July, there was a meeting for the core membership of high-ranking party officials from provincial organizations, party secretaries, and managers from business firms … to deliver policy from the Central Committee regarding the current political situation,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“The last speaker who ended the six-hour-long meeting emphasized that ‘nuclear is a precious legacy from the late leaders’ and ‘if there is no nuclear, there is death,’” he said.
North Korea began acquiring the basic knowledge necessary to develop a nuclear weapons program in the 1950s, under Kim Jong Un’s grandfather Kim Il Sung—the nation’s founder—and producing plutonium in the late 1980s under his father Kim Jong Il, before testing its first nuclear device in 2006.
According to the source, many of the officials were “taken by surprise by the Central Committee’s decree.”
A second source from North Hamgyong told RFA that the Central Committee’s order had divided North Koreans after news of the meeting filtered out to the public.
“Some agree that ‘without nuclear there will be death’ and some say that it is breaking a promise to the U.S. and the international community,” the source said.
The source said officials are confused about whether the reference to nuclear weapons as “a precious legacy from the late leaders” and the only protection against the obliteration of the country meant that the North could never give them up.
“The high-ranking party officials were listening to the speakers at the meeting because they were trying to determine whether Kim Jong Un really doesn’t intend to give up nuclear weapons or if it was just part of a ploy to gain leverage in [international] negotiations over the denuclearization process,” he said.
“This is the first time since the U.S.-North Korea summit … that the Central Committee officially declared at a high-ranking party officials’ meeting that nuclear is a legacy from the late leaders, but it could simply be an ideological statement aimed at tightening discipline among the ranks.”
A major obstacle to reaching and implementing any nuclear deal is that the U.S. and North Korea have differing definitions of denuclearization on the Korean peninsula. North Korea wants the extended nuclear deterrence the United States offers South Korea included in any deal, while Washington sees the issue as the dismantling and removal of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and facilities.