The first-ever meeting between U.S. President and North Korean Chairman is over now, and the world is left with many thoughts and even more questions about the near future. Although the meeting has moved the ice and North Korea’s nuclear threat and the risk of military conflict have been addressed, years of challenging work and cooperation are yet to come.
Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un signed a document to establish new U.S.-DPRK relations. According to the document, Chairman Kim Jong-Un reaffirmed his commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and President Trump committed to providing security guarantees to North Korea. On the one hand, Kim Jong-Un did not clarify when he is planning to achieve “complete denuclearization” and destroy a missiles engine test site. On the other hand, economic sanctions against North Korea will remain the same until the U.S. and UN see the progress toward complete denuclearization. Therefore, the future of U.S-Korea relations is in the hands of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his team, and real peace in the Korean Peninsula depend on how well they will do their job.
Singapore Summit: The Meeting Is The Message
Donald J. Trump and Kim Jong-un changed the trajectory of the U.S.-North Korea relationship from confrontation toward cooperation and provided dramatic images of reconciliation with their well-hyped June 12, 2018, summit meeting in Singapore. This meeting has bought time to address North Korea’s nuclear threat and reduced the risk of near-term military conflict. But the four points of the joint statement signed by the two leaders underscored the magnitude and difficulty of the work remaining to be done.
The document signed by the two leaders for the first time envisioned a normal relationship between the United States and North Korea and reiterated Kim Jong-un’s commitment first made in the April 27, 2018, Panmunjom Declaration to “complete denuclearization,” and pledged to renew joint work toward POW/MIA recovery of remains from the Korean War. It also authorized a process of follow-on negotiations to be led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a North Korean counterpart.
By normalizing Kim Jong-un as a counterpart on the world stage, by pledging efforts to establish “new U.S.-DPRK relations,” and by pledging to curtail U.S.-ROK joint military exercises, the United States President Trump has moved dramatically in the direction of meeting longstanding North Korean demands to end the “hostile relationship” between Washington and Pyongyang and offering security guarantees as a prerequisite to denuclearization.
But Kim Jong-un does not appear to have reciprocated U.S concessions. North Korea reiterated an aspiration to achieve “complete denuclearization” and pledged to destroy a missile engine test site, but the timeline and scope of such a process are not clear. In this respect, the United States appears to have given more than expected, while there are no concrete North Korean actions envisioned that might validate Kim Jong-un’s seriousness of purpose to denuclearize. Meanwhile, Kim Jong-un is being normalized in the international actor despite North Korea’s status as an illegal nuclear weapons state.
The joint statement did not directly address North Korea’s missile development, chemical and biological weapons programs, or human rights situation, underscoring the limited time and progress made during technical negotiations. Likewise, U.S. and UN sanctions will stay in place pending tangible progress toward complete denuclearization, although no additional U.S. sanctions will be added. But the symbolism of the meeting ensures that the maximum pressure campaign has peaked and that in practice, China and South Korea will push for relaxation of economic pressure on North Korea.
Nor did the U.S.-North Korea joint statement provide any sense of linkage to the processes between peace and denuclearization or to inter-Korean commitments outlined in the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration. All these issues must go onto the agenda of the Pompeo-led process to come, but the likelihood of rapid progress is not high given the apparent vagueness of the commitments contained in the joint statement between the two leaders.
Despite the drama and historic nature of the meeting, the outcome did not live up to the hype. As a result, Trump faces a huge challenge in selling a turn in U.S.-North Korea relations as an historic accomplishment. The best way to do that will be for Pompeo and his team to roll up their sleeves and get back to work, together with our allies, to make a real peace on the Korean peninsula.
Source: Forbes, Scott Snyder, June 14, 2018. Photo credit to Reuters .