Published on News24: 15 June 2018
So, the historic North Korea – United States Summit has come and gone.
President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un both got exactly what they wanted … pomp and ceremony, great photos, a good chat, big signatures on a vague agreement and a press conference to prove the summit in Singapore was a roaring success.
And no-one should wish it was any other way.
To Trump and Kim’s credit, the world is a much safer place since Tuesday’s landmark summit. To have the looming threat of nuclear war placed on the back-burner is a triumph that few expected and none should take it for granted.
How long this honeymoon period between the Unites States and North Korea will last is anyone’s guess, but the world should breathe a collective sigh of relief and enjoy it while it lasts.
Trump and the media
For all his failings – and they are numerous – Trump has proven himself to be a man of action. And, even though his action is often horribly misguided, last week’s G7 train wreck being a prime example, he was right to have met with Kim to avoid the escalating risk of nuclear confrontation.
Some experts may argue that the meeting served only to legitimise Kim’s reign, but there are many relieved South Koreans who would say otherwise.
Unfortunately, the media was so focused on whether Trump or Kim was the victor of the summit, it lost sense of the fact that the entire planet was the victor. Rather than celebrating the hiatus in the threat of nuclear war, the media criticised Trump for giving away too many concessions and daring to praise Kim for his new-found conciliatory approach.
In truth, it’s too soon for anyone to make assertions on whether the NK-US Summit will lead to long-term success.
Interpretation of denuclearisation
How Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart will thrash out a deal that leads to the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula is anyone’s guess. But, the US’s sincerity behind the deal was given a major boost with Trump’s impromptu suspension of the ‘provocative’ joint military exercises that are held regularly between the US, South Korea and Japan.
This unexpected concession has given North Korea a significant motive to pursue negotiations in good faith. Right now, however, the negotiations should focus on clarifying exactly what the term ‘denuclearisation’ means, what the ‘complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula’ will entail, and at what point(s) the plethora of US sanctions imposed on North Korea will be lifted.
From the US’s perspective, denuclearisation means the ‘complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement (CVID) of North Korea’s nuclear program’, and sanctions will only be lifted once this has been fully achieved.
North Korea likely views denuclearisation as the phased shutdown of its nuclear program and subsequent dismantlement of its nuclear weapons, in line with the removal of US military troops and assets from the Korean Peninsula, phased sanctions relief, and a signed agreement that the US’s nuclear umbrella no longer extends over South Korea and Japan.
Kim’s ballistic missiles
Another point of contention is North Korea’s medium and long-range ballistic missiles. The US will almost certainly regard Kim’s ballistic missile program as being part of North Korea’s nuclear program, and would thus expect its dismantlement in parallel with its denuclearisation.
North Korea, however, may insist that ‘denuclearisation’ does not extend to its ballistic missiles, which it might want to retain for peaceful purposes like launching satellites into space.
Considering one of the main reasons Trump withdrew from the Iran Nuclear Deal was that Iran’s ballistic missile program was not incorporated in the deal, it’s unlikely the US would grant a concession for North Korea to retain any of its ballistic missiles.
If this is the case, Trump would have to recognise the significant investment that Kim would be expected to walk away from and provide an appealing measure of financial compensation.
Closing the deal
If North Korea feels it’s being forced into a corner at any point during the negotiations, Kim might stand up and insist denuclearisation be facilitated via Article IV of the United Nations’ Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This would require the acceding of North Korea to the NPT as the world’s ninth nuclear-armed state prior to its ‘denuclearisation in good faith’ via Article IV of the treaty.
Although Trump may cringe at this proposal, he’d be hard-pressed to refuse it – especially if both China and Russia endorse it. Certainly, North Korea would be more inclined to denuclearise via the NPT as opposed to a more onerous version of the Iran Nuclear Deal.
Also undermining Trump’s leverage is the diminishing clout of US sanctions. Since the US’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal, other nations party to the deal (including his European allies, China and Russia) have all agreed to continue observing the agreement and to disregard US sanctions imposed on Iran. An additional consideration is Trump’s compromised influence at the G7.
In North Korea’s case, both China and Russia have suggested the UN Security Council consider steps toward lifting sanctions on North Korea in the wake of the summit, while Trump believes that China may have already begun to relax trade controls despite sanctions still being in place.
In the short term we’ll probably see Trump, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-In getting together for a summit to end the Korean War officially. Hopefully by this time a workable deal has been put in place where North and South Korea are the primary drivers of peace, cooperation, mutual disarmament, sanctions relief and economic prosperity throughout the Korean Peninsula.
Whether North Korea ever completely denuclearises in accordance with the US’s CVID demand, remains to be seen. But for now, the focus should remain on keeping communication channels open, maintaining diplomatic relations and fostering a climate of reconciliation. That is success.
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