Brief #58—Foreign Policy
President Trump and Chairman Kim’s departures from Hanoi last week, Trump by plane and Kim by way of an over 60-hour train ride, signaled the disappointing conclusion to the second in-person meeting between the two leaders. The first, held last June in Singapore, prioritized the achievement of symbolic cooperation over the arrangement of concrete policy agreements. One major question left unanswered was whether nuclear production or sanctions would be suspended first. The Trump administration hoped to settle these uncertainties and plan the specificities of the peace process during this second summit, which was held from February 27-28th.
Stating the week before that “I’m in no rush for speed. We just don’t want testing”, Trump arrived in Vietnam with an outlined proposition for the codification of the goals outlined last June: the Korean War would be formally ended, North Korea would return the remains of US troops killed during the conflict, both countries would establish liaison offices as quasi-embassies in each other’s countries, and North Korea would stop producing nuclear materials at the Yongbyon facility in return for the lifting of some sanctions.
This last objective proved to be too great a point of contention, with both parties leaving with different versions of the dividing issue. According to Trump and Pompeo, Kim wanted the erasure of all sanctions in return for the suspension of nuclear production in the Yongbyon facility, said to be the heart of North Korea’s nuclear program. According to North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, Kim only asked for the lifting of the most recent five of the eleven UN Security Council sanctions levied against the country. Ultimately, no deal was reached and a planned lunch and signing ceremony were canceled.
This lack of accomplishment can come off as a major defeat in the context of such a drawn-out peace process. The fact that almost a year after Trump and Kim declared to the world their willingness to work towards peace and denuclearization neither could gain any concessions from each other is disheartening. If Trump and Pompeo’s account of the issue is correct, and Kim expected the complete eradication of the greatest leverage the US holds besides military action in return for the closing of a facility which doesn’t even constitute the entirety of North Korea’s nuclear production, it doesn’t bode well for North Korea’s actual willingness to compromise.
However, there are a number of peripheral signifiers which allow for more optimism than this recent failure suggests. For one, the quality of the rhetoric between American and North Korean leadership has progressed significantly from the threats and hostility of years before. While this has sometimes gone too far (take for instance Trump’s willingness to deny Kim’s complicity in the murder of American student Otto Warmbier), the fact that the immediate threat of nuclear war is no longer at the front of every conversation regarding US-North Korean relations is a welcome relief. Perhaps it’s simply Trump’s dream of winning a Nobel Peace Prize, but our typically impetuous President has continued to refrain from criticism of North Korean leadership after the failed summit, and scrapped two joint military exercises previously planned to be held on the DMZ alongside South Korea. While the mood of North Korean officials is far more opaque, their state media continued to voice support for peace with the United States. North Korea has also avoided any missile testing since late 2017.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in responded to the summit with confidence, stating that “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and permanent peace will definitely come”, and South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon announced that “South Korea will talk to the United States about preparatory work for the future resumption of two key inter-Korean economic projects and about waiving sanctions on North Korea if necessary”.
However it is worth noting that two days after completion of the Summit satellite images reveal that North Koreas has started rebuilding key missile test-facilities at its Yongbyon nuclear complex north of Pyongyang, according to the New York Times
- United for Peace and Justice: The UFPJ is a network of hundreds of peace and justice organizations with the shared goal of promoting a culture of demilitarization and cooperation.
- Veterans for Peace: VFP is a global organization of military veterans and allies working to shift the rhetoric regarding war. One of their projects, the Korea Peace Campaign, has stood in opposition to American hawkishness regarding Korea since 2002.
This Brief was submitted by USRESIST NEWS Foreign Policy Analyst Colin Shanley: Contact Colin@usresistnews.org
Photo by Jonathan Simcoe