US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an admirable effort to paint his two days of discussions with North Korean representatives in Pyongyang in the best light possible. He described the talks as ‘productive,’ and stated that progress was made on nearly all of the ‘central issues.’ The North Korean government’s take on the talks was strikingly different. Kim Yong Chol, a senior North Korean official, accused the United States of presenting a “unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization” that was “deeply regrettable.”
To make a long story short, after Pompeo’s visit, it appears US-North Korean relations may be drifting back to Square One with regards to North Korea denuclearizing.
If this turns out to be the case, the Trump administration is prepared for the contingency. From the moment Kim Jong Un made the first move towards improving relations with South Korea, and eventually the United States, the Trump administration adopted a hope-for-the-best-but-prepare-for-the-worst disposition. The US had little to lose by initiating the talks with North Korea which led to Kim Jong Un and President Trump meeting in Singapore last month. In the buildup to Singapore, the North’s comments and actions nearly derailed the summit. This was a red flag for the US regarding North Korea’s overall agenda, and intentions.
The disappointing outcome of Pompeo’s latest visit to Pyongyang places considerably more pressure on Pyongyang than on Washington. The North’s next move will be scrutinized closely. If it turns out that Kim has not been sincere about his desire to denuclearize, the Trump administration’s revised approach will become more inflexible. There’s little chance of the US relenting on its wish to see North Korea become nuclear-free. Therefore, the only real path for the US will be to tighten the screws on Pyongyang. Stiffer economic sanctions, and ramp up international pressure on North Korea. If that fails to motivate North Korea, other measures, including the use of force to force Kim’s to comply with denuclearization must be considered.
The summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un is on once again. Trump informed reporters of the reversal this afternoon at the White House. The date and location will remain unchanged: 12 June, 2018 in Singapore. Last week the president announced the cancelation of the highly anticipated summit after a number of openly hostile statements were made by North Korean government officials. Trump also cited the failure of Pyongyang to send a delegation to meet with US officials in Singapore to discuss logistical issues, and other pre-summit items as a reason for pulling the plug on the summit.
Almost immediately, a flurry of diplomatic activity broke out from Seoul to Washington. Diplomats, and leaders from around the world moved with startling speed to salvage the summit if at all possible. Not surprisingly, South Korea spearheaded the efforts. A planned meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae In and Kim Jong Un which had been cancelled previously, was held at the DMZ. China was also active, pressuring Pyongyang behind the scenes for a solution that would make the summit a reality. This week, the diplomatic focus shifted to the United States. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with a North Korean delegation in New York City on Thursday. This morning a personal letter from Kim was delivered to the White House and a few hours later, President Trump informed the world that the summit is back on.
If the summit plans remain unchanged from this point on, it will be time to start talking about what the chances are for a US-North Korea deal to be struck, and what a possible deal could look like.
I will post about those subjects next week. Enjoy the weekend!
The much-anticipated summit meeting scheduled for mid-June between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore has been cancelled. The decision was made by President Trump following recent comments and actions by North Korea indicating that perhaps the North was not turning over a new leaf as many were hoping. Last week Pyongyang canceled scheduled talks with South Korea over joint US-South Korean military exercises going on in the South. Earlier this week, the first cracks became apparent. On Monday, North Korea made comments suggesting a nuclear showdown could occur if talks between the US and North Korea fail. Twenty-four hours later, Trump indicated there was a chance the planned summit might not take place at the planned time and place. Unknown to many outsiders, and journalists at the time, the president was making reference to North Korea’s failure to attend recent meetings in Singapore to work out planning for the summit. Then came Thursday’s cancellation with Trump citing North Korea’s ‘tremendous anger and open hostility’
What happens next is the great unknown. The cancellation took South Korea by complete surprise. South Korean President Moon Jae-in expended a lion’s share of political capital to make the US-North Korean summit a reality. In politics, of course, perception matters more than reality. Moon has to know his image will take a big hit as the fallout from the cancelled summit settles. Upon learning of Trump’s decision to call the meeting off, the South Korean government expressed complete surprise. Moon called an emergency meeting of his close advisers, and national security team to try and make sense of the US move.
The South Koreans are on the sidelines for the time being, however. The next step in this unfolding drama will depend on Pyongyang and how Kim chooses to respond.
Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in have concluded their one-day summit in the South Korean section of the Joint Security Area The first meeting between leaders of the two Koreas in over a decade was heavy on symbolism and drama. The two leaders pledged to bring the Korean War to a formal end, as well as make the entire Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons. The global media simply could not get enough, declaring the meeting to be a success far beyond the hopes of both sides, and fawning over the images of Kim Jong Un crossing the border into South Korea.
What the media fails to mention is the fact that the two Koreas have been down this road before. At the previously held inter-Korean summit meetings the leaders of both nations made broad promises to cooperate on a number of issues, and pave the way for closer relations in the future. As time went on, the opposite happened and the Koreas returned to the tense, hostile relationship that both sides had hoped was permanently in the past. With this in mind, many observers are understandably skeptical about the pledges made by Un and Moon.
The 2018 summit is neither an end or a beginning. It is the latest move in a decades-long chess match. The overall hope is that this gathering has laid the groundwork for a more crucial meeting between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in the near future. Achieving this was a goal of both Korean leaders, but for entirely different reasons. Moon was intent on being seen as the man greatly responsible for thawing the US-North Korean standoff and bringing both sides to the negotiating table. He also wants to be able to take a large portion of the credit for any US-North Korean agreements regarding denuclearization. Un wants to negotiate with the United States, however, his reasons and motivation are suspect. Meeting with Trump as an equal would be seen as a major victory in Un’s eyes and establish North Korea as a world power. If there’s no concrete chances of him relinquishing North Korea’s nuclear weapons though, it’s highly unlikely the United States will agree to a meeting. And right now, there’s no proof the North Koreans intend to remain committed to denuclearizing their half of the peninsula, regardless of Un’s promises at the summit meeting yesterday.
As South Korean President Moon Jae-in touts the progress his administration has made in improving relations with North Korea, many of his fellow countrymen remain skeptical about the sincerity behind North Korea’s promises to end missile tests, and close its nuclear test site down permanently. South Koreans may not be entirely jaded, but they’ve been down this road enough times to know from experience that the chance of the North living up to its promises is slim. Earlier attempts by South Korean leaders to improve relations between the Koreas have all been relatively short-lived. The relationship between North and South always returned to the bitterness, and hostility that has largely defined it since the end of the Korean War. Moon enjoys a high level of popularity among South Koreans at the moment. However, if his renewed Sunshine Policy doesn’t net results, Moon could be facing political problems at home and abroad.
Moon appears convinced North Korea is sincere and desires complete denuclearization. He has been open in his opinions, and, whether he is aware of it or not, has become an unsanctioned interpreter of North Korea’s perceived intentions. Others would consider him to be something more akin to a mouthpiece for his North Korean counterpart. His determination to seal the deal on North Korean denuclearization and attach it to a potential peace treaty is bold and perilous. If North Korea does forfeit its nuclear weapons, Moon’s political capital will soar. On the flip side, if the North decides to keep its nuclear weapons, or the love-fest Moon is promoting does not carry over to US-North Korean relations, the South Korean leader will be the scapegoat.
Moon’s role in the current drama playing out is quite significant. However, it would benefit him to remember that he is a supporting character. Inter-Korean relations are secondary to the standoff between the United States and North Korea over its nuclear arsenal. The direction events go in following next week’s meeting between Moon and Kim Jong Un will be determined largely in Pyongyang and Washington, not Seoul.