Kim Jong-un watches Hwasong-14 get erected in 2017
Dr Siegfried Hecker visited the communist state seven times between 2004 and 2010 to report on its nuclear facilities. He estimates Kim Jong-un has enough material to produce approximately 45 nuclear weapons, but says a great chance was missed to halt the programme in 2019.
Trump’s summit with Kim in Singapore in 2018 was the first meeting between a sitting American president and a North Korean leader.
It was viewed as a major breakthrough as Kim had agreed to “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”.
But Dr Hecker believes this progress was scuppered by the February 2019 Hanoi summit, and suggested “hardliners” in the Trump camp were to blame.
He told Express.co.uk: “Singapore was a noteworthy accomplishment because the two sides agreed to pursue denuclearization and normalization in parallel.
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“Unfortunately, Hanoi failed to a large extent because hardliners in the Trump administration convinced the president it was better for him to walk away – an opportunity squandered.”
In the build up to the second summit, Kim Jong-un penned a letter to Trump in which he offered to shut down his country’s ‘Nuclear Weapons Institute’.
Dr Hecker has compared the institute to Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US, home of the primary nuclear weapons research facility and birthplace of the atomic bomb, where he served as director from 1986 to 1997.
However, he is unsure about precise details of the so-called ‘Nuclear Weapons Institute’.
In a letter to Trump, dated September 6, 2018, Kim wrote: “We are willing to take further meaningful steps one at a time in a phased manner, such as the complete shutdown of the Nuclear Weapons Institute or the Satellite Launch District and the irreversible closure of the nuclear materials production facility.”
The letter was revealed in ‘Rage’, a book by journalist Bob Woodward.
Trump and Kim could not reach an agreement in Hanoi as North Korea sought the lifting of US sanctions.
“Sometimes you have to walk,” Trump told reporters after the meeting.
“I could have signed an agreement today and then you people would have said, ‘oh, what a terrible deal.”’
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President Trump had been willing to lift US sanctions on North Korea to reach a deal on denuclearisation with a view to reinstating them if Kim resumed weapons testing, author Anna Fifield notes.
“But the hardline national security adviser, John Bolton, and secretary of state Mike Pompeo apparently prevailed over their boss, talking him out of easing up on the North Koreans,” she writes in The Great Successor: The Secret Rise and Rule of Kim Jong-un.
“The American president told his counterpart he needed to give up his entire nuclear programme before getting any sanction relief.
“This was essentially the same deal that US presidents had been trying to strike for decades, including during Bolton’s time in the last Bush administration.
“This approach had always failed.”
Edward Howell, politics lecturer and North Korea expert at the University of Oxford, has told Express.co.uk Kim “has no intention of getting rid of its nuclear weapons”.
Mr Howell also believes North Korea “would have preferred it if Trump had won the election” because “it viewed Trump as one of the only presidents with whom they could strike a deal vaguely on their terms”.
Mr Howell also described some of the obstacles North Korea faces with Biden.
He warns a return to Obama’s strategic patience tactic could leave North Korea feeling “neglected”.
Mr Howell added: “Given the people Biden has appointed and given what he has said before the election, yes we will see the continuation of sanctions on North Korea and there won’t be a willingness to meet with Kim Jong-un on a presidential level.”
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