U.S. President Donald Trump contradicted himself Friday, announcing via an executive order that North Korea continues to pose “an unusual and extraordinary threat” to the United States — a statement that comes less than a week after he triumphantly declared that the North’s nuclear weapons were “no longer” a problem.
In the executive order, the president extended for one year the so-called national emergency with respect to the nuclear-armed North, reauthorizing economic restrictions against the country.
Although expected, the declaration — made following his historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore — comes just nine days after Trump tweeted, “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”
The national emergency, which has been renewed by every president since it was put in place in June 2008 during the George W. Bush administration, highlights the continued tensions between the two nations, despite disputed claims by Trump that the conflict has been resolved.
It states that “the existence and risk of proliferation of weapons-usable fissile material” and the actions and policies of the North Korean government “continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”
Tensions with Pyongyang have stoked fears of conflict, spiking last year as the North tested missiles that experts believe are capable of striking most of the continental United States and could be tipped with nuclear warheads. Those fears eased this year as the North embarked on a charm offensive, meeting with South Korean and Chinese leaders, and culminating in the June 12 summit in Singapore — the first meeting between sitting leaders from the U.S. and North Korea.
In a vaguely worded joint statement from the summit, Kim agreed to work “towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” among other lofty goals, leaving much of the details to be handled in follow-up negotiations led by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean officials “at the earliest possible date.”
Although seen as pro forma, Friday’s extension of the executive order laid bare the striking amount of work that lays ahead for the White House as it continues talks with the North over its nuclear weapons program — despite Trump’s claims that the problem has been dealt with.
Trump said at a Cabinet meeting Thursday that denuclearization had already begun, although his own defense chief, Jim Mattis, said a day earlier that he wasn’t aware that Pyongyang had taken any such steps, and that detailed negotiations had yet to begin.
Some observers have criticized the president for trumpeting a successful summit despite the lack of any substantial new concessions in the so-called Singapore Declaration — the short, four-point joint statement released at the meeting’s conclusion.
“Like the Singapore Declaration, I’m going to bet the President has not read this and has no idea what it says. Because he told us the North Korea nuclear threat was ‘over,’ ” Vipin Narang, a North Korea expert and professor of international relations at MIT, wrote on Twitter, referring to the executive order. “Apparently he disagrees with himself.”