North Korea's announcement that it is halting nuclear and missile tests could be a negotiating gambit in advance of an upcoming summit with South Korea — and the prospective historic meeting being planned with President Donald Trump — but it is still a sign that Pyongyang is serious about the talks.
It is also another indication that, despite rampant smuggling, the latest economic sanctions are beginning to hurt.
North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un claimed in a statement by state-run media that the halt was because the isolated nation has already achieved nuclear deterrence.
But the halt in tests could be just a lull in order to gauge American intentions. And the announcement that one nuclear test site would be closed is surely a ruse: U.S. negotiators from the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations have been fooled before by North Korean promises to disable nuclear and missile facilities, only to discover they simply relocated their programs at other underground sites.
That said, the famously secretive "hermit kingdom" — the hardest of all intelligence targets for the U.S — has just opened a hotline between the leaders of South and North Korea.
It was tested for the first time Friday local time for four minutes, South Korea's chief officer of state affairs said. Aides were said to have discussed the weather at one point.
As long as Trump administration taps into the expertise of professional analysts at CIA and NSC, and those remaining at the State Department, there is a chance this could lead to a significant change for a peninsula that has been living on a nuclear precipice for decades — if not full denuclearization, at least some form of verifiable containment.
After all, chatting about the weather is better than where the world was in early January, when Kim and Trump were comparing the size of their nuclear buttons.