Trump-Kim Summit


Y Udaya Chandar
(The writer can be reached at yudayachandar@gmail.com)

Let us recall what has happened so far on the world’s stage with respect to the United States (US), the most powerful nation in the world today, and tiny North Korea. A summit between the countries’ leaders, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un, respectively, took place on 12 June 2018, in Singapore. The purpose of the summit was to plan for the total denuclearization of North Korea.

Before the meeting, there were many twists to the story and many quarrels between Trump and Kim. Both were fighting like school children, using ugly language. We cannot say who won these confrontations, as both were fiery and armed with adequate abuse.

Further, the US President has a Twitter account, where he reveals his thinking on any subjects. He posted a number of tweets about the summit, most of them unpleasant. On 24 May he called off the summit, blaming the ‘tremendous anger and open hostility’ by North Korea. However, he gave space to all to think that the meeting could still take place, if North Korea stopped its ‘foolish acts’.

In mid-May 2018, North Korea claimed it had dismantled its nuclear test site at Punggye-ri. This was a site where North Korea had previously carried out six nuclear tests. The country also provided video-satellite clippings of the demolition. A few reporters were also invited to seethe demolition first-hand; however, no US officials were invited. US experts called the demolition a near-proxy one. North Korea had promised that experts would be invited to verify the demolition, but they did not keep their promise. The experts opined that the site had been sanitized before the demolition started.

North Korean state media hailed the move as ‘an important process for global nuclear disarmament’ and claimed it had been carried out with ‘high-level transparency’. Trump called it ‘a very smart and gracious gesture’. North Korean representatives arrived before reporters came. Much of the international media argued that the demolition was not a genuine exercise. Generally speaking, many believe that the Koreans are trying to fool the world.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed the offer to destroy Punggye-ri as ‘good news’ and ‘one step along the way’, when North Korea first announced it. But the treatment of the Punggye-ri test site fell far short of Pompeo’s high bar for of ‘complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization’ and called into doubt the North’s willingness to accept the kinds of verification measures often included in arms-control agreements. At the end, the summit took place in Singapore as originally scheduled, on 12 June 2018. What exactly transpired between the leaders during the meeting was not clear for days. Everyone had to depend upon his or her own imagination. Many concluded that little was achieved, and some thought that Kim had extracted all the concessions while giving away only a little.

The paradox is that no one is clear about what is meant by ‘denuclearization’. Everyone interprets this to suit his or her own convenience and views. Denuclearization must mean the elimination of the full North Korean nuclear programme in a ‘complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement ’. North Korea sees ‘denuclearization’ as the withdrawal of US troops from South Korea, since the US is a ‘nuclear country’, but the US has made a commitment to safeguard South Korea. With this in mind, it wants to stay put, along with all of its weapons in the country. North Korea does not understand this. As per the summit’s decision, the US must also abide by the ‘Panmunjom Agreement’, which was concluded between the two Koreas on 27 April, 2018. In the hours before the summit ended, the White House unexpectedly announced that Trump would depart earlier than scheduled. Some crucially important events have taken place since the summit. The US cancelled its war games with South Korea, Trump committed to ‘unspecified security guarantees’ for North Korea and Kim has promised the ‘complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula’. All of these are, of course, just on paper. Adding to the North’s concerns that giving up its nuclear weapons could surrender its primary deterrent to force regime change, Pompeo told reporters that the US was prepared to take action to provide North Korea with ‘sufficient certainty’ that denuclearization ‘is not something that ends badly for them’. Pompeo held firm to Trump’s position that sanctions will remain in place until North Korea denuclearizes—and even said they would increase, if diplomatic discussions did not progress in a positive manner. Any diplomatic agreement in which North Korea assents to give up its nuclear weapons could take as long as 10 years to implement, according to a new analysis from former US officials. Siegfried Hecker, a respected nuclear scientist who has previously travelled to North Korea to inspect its nuclear site, co-authored a roadmap with Robert Carlin, a Korea analyst who spent years at the CIA and State Department. The two identified 22 specific programmes or activities—such as the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile, its missile arsenal and its nuclear reprocessing facilities—that US negotiators need to address with North Korea. North Korea has promised to be a responsible nuclear power that would never use nuclear weapons ‘unless there are nuclear threats and nuclear provocations’ against it. In essence, Kim wants to give up his nuclear weapons only when all other nations have done the same.