AP Analysis: Kim Jong Un tests Trump with latest nuke offer

Christians pray during a service to wish for a peace on the Korea peninsular at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, South Korea, near the border with North Korea, Saturday, April 21, 2018. North Korea announced Saturday it will suspend nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile launches ahead of its summits with Seoul and Washington, but stopped well short of suggesting it has any intention of giving up its nuclear weapons or scale back its production of missiles and their related component parts. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
North Koreans watch as their country's most famous newscaster announces leader Kim Jong Un's proposal to suspend nuclear tests and long-range missile launches on a giant screen on Pyongyang's newly built Mirae Scientists' Street Saturday, April 21, 2018. Kim is to hold a summit with South Korea's president next week and with U.S. President Donald Trump in late May or June. (AP Photo/Cha Song Ho)
An elementary school student takes a selfie as visitors watch the North Korea side from the unification observatory in Paju, South Korea, near the border with North Korea, Saturday, April 21, 2018. North Korea announced Saturday it will suspend nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile launches ahead of its summits with Seoul and Washington, but stopped well short of suggesting it has any intention of giving up its nuclear weapons or scale back its production of missiles and their related component parts. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
People watch a TV screen showing file footage of U.S. President Donald Trump, right, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, April 21, 2018. North Korea said Saturday it has suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests and plans to close its nuclear test site ahead of a new round of negotiations with South Korea and the United States. There was no clear indication in the North's announcement if it would be willing to deal away its arsenal. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
North Koreans watch as their country's most famous newscaster announces leader Kim Jong Un's proposal to suspend nuclear tests and long-range missile launches on a giant screen on Pyongyang's newly built Mirae Scientists' Street Saturday, April 21, 2018. Kim is to hold a summit with South Korea's president next week and with U.S. President Donald Trump in late May or June. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)
People watch a TV showing a file footage of North Korea's missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, April 21, 2018. North Korea said Saturday it has suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests and plans to close its nuclear test site ahead of a new round of negotiations with South Korea and the United States. There was no clear indication in the North's announcement if it would be willing to deal away its arsenal. The signs read: "Chines media reports political major event." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
In this Friday, April 20, 2018, photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea said Saturday, April 21, 2017 it has suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests and plans to close its nuclear test site ahead of a new round of negotiations with South Korea and the United States. There was no clear indication in the North's announcement if it would be willing to deal away its arsenal. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)
Visitors watch the North Korea side from the unification observatory in Paju, South Korea, near the border with North Korea, Saturday, April 21, 2018. North Korea announced Saturday it will suspend nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile launches ahead of its summits with Seoul and Washington, but stopped well short of suggesting it has any intention of giving up its nuclear weapons or scale back its production of missiles and their related component parts. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

TOKYO — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has finally broken his silence on what he plans to bring to the table during his summits with the South Korean and U.S. presidents, and it doesn't have a whole lot to do with tossing out his hard-won nuclear arsenal.

Instead, Kim appears to be maneuvering toward his own big "get" — the chance to sit down with President Donald Trump on an essentially equal basis as the head of a nuclear-armed nation. The end of North Korea's nuclear program, meanwhile, isn't looking any closer than it was before.

Ending weeks of ominous silence from Pyongyang, Kim laid out the new strategy at a meeting Friday of his ruling party's Central Committee that suspends underground nuclear tests and test-launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles. He also said the country's nuclear test site at Punggye-ri, already believed to be essentially inoperable, will be closed and "dismantled."

North Korea for decades has been pushing a concept of denuclearization that bears no resemblance to the American definition, vowing to keep pursuing nuclear development unless Washington offers ironclad guarantees of its security and removes its nearly 30,000 troops from the Korean Peninsula.

This time around, Kim seems to be more flexible than he had been previously regarding the troops. His latest statement also echoed Pyongyang's hope for security assurances and for the day when the world will have no nuclear weapons.

But it also unapologetically stressed that his country is now a nuclear power, and the message between the lines is that the United States should simply accept that and treat him as an equal.

Kim praised his policy of developing nuclear weapons as a "miraculous" success." A resolution passed by the committee afterward went on to explicitly state North Korea's promise to be a responsible nuclear power that would never use nuclear weapons "unless there are nuclear threats and nuclear provocations" against it.

Even so, the announcement, which also stressed Kim's desire to turn his focus to economic development, played very well in world capitals.

Trump immediately took to Twitter to praise the announcement as "very good news for North Korea and the World." Seoul and Beijing welcomed it. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a hard-liner on North Korea, tried to keep his response positive, though he stressed the need for vigilance to see what happens in the coming months.

For sure, Kim's tone has changed.

Just last year, about the only messages coming out of Pyongyang were vitriolic threats of merciless retaliation and warnings of the gathering dark clouds of nuclear war. Now, Kim is claiming he can be more magnanimous because "a fresh climate of detente and peace is being created on the Korean Peninsula and the region and dramatic changes are being made in the international political landscape," according to the North's state-run media, which reported the announcement on Saturday.

There is also a lot of room for positive results to come from Kim's summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, set for next Friday, and Trump, expected in late May or early June.

The North and South may agree to allow more reunions for families that were divided by the 1950-53 Korean War, and Kim is reportedly open to releasing three Americans now in North Korean custody.

Experts point out that this is still Kim's opening gambit. It's possible he may be willing to offer more concessions once the real talking begins.

Then again, maybe not.

"Kim Jong Un just said, in effect, that North Korea is an arrived nuclear power and he will give up nukes when the rest of the world does," said Joshua Pollack, a senior research associate with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. "I sense that Kim Jong Un's commitment to denuclearization has been greatly oversold."

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Talmadge, the AP's Pyongyang bureau chief, has traveled to North Korea regularly since 2012. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @EricTalmadge

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