The two leaders of the USA and North Korea met for a second time in Hanoi on 27-28th February 2019. This time the summit was watched with less fanfare but still with notable interest. The Hanoi summit, however, ended abruptly with Mr. Trump walking out of the meeting on the second day. This time there was no joint statement issued and conflicting versions of the summit talks was issued by the media.
Mr. Trump had stated his walkout was due to the “unacceptable north Korean demands on sanctions”. Later, the North Korean side clarified that Pyongyang had sought only lifting of sanctions on a limited basis which were related to people’s livelihood and not to military sanctions. Pyongyang proposed to close down the Yongbyon nuclear site, including plutonium and uranium facilities which would be the biggest denuclearization that Chairman Kim would undertake. Pyongyang also emphasized on a written commitment to halt long range rocket testing and nuclear testing.
During the 2018 Singapore summit, the joint statement issued by Mr. Trump and Chairman Kim expressed North Korea’s commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and USA’s commitment to provide security guarantee to the Pyongyang regime. However there was no reference made to “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” as Mr. Trump has always sought. So the failure of the Hanoi summit could be traced to this ambiguity created by what Mr. Trump had always sought and the joint statement they issued. A time bound denuclearization roadmap would have placed clear obligation on Chairman Kim given the previous history of Pyongyang’s refusal to denuclearization.
Hanoi summit would give some learning lessons to Mr. Trump on how to effectively deal with North Korea without hampering the prospects of denuclearization. For the abrupt ending of the Hanoi summit Mr. Trump iterated “we want to do the right deal. Speed is not important”. Many would agree with him on this as it is better to have no deal than a bad deal. While Pyongyang has kept its doors open for future talks many worry if Chairman Kim would pursue with the same interest for a deal with Washington.
The Hanoi summit was followed very closely by South Korea, Japan and China and drew varied responses on its failure. While, South Korea is disappointed by the failure of the process, it has still sought to continue the dialogue process. President Moon Jae-in has stated that South Korea would communicate and cooperate with the US and North Korea help reach a complete settlement. The progress of Inter-Korean relations would depend on the way negotiations between the two parties take place. The South Korean administration has consulted the US to resume projects with the North including tourism, development at Mount Kumgang and Kaesong Industrial Complex.
The only leader from the neighboring countries that Kim has not met since the negotiations started is Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The opinion that no deal is better than a bad deal has been emanating from Japan since many fear that Mr. Trump might give away some compromises to North Korea. Japan considers that until North Korea agrees for complete denuclearization its security is endangered. Given the past experience in the six party talks, Japan insists on the need for a full declaration of all nuclear and missile facilities in North Korea.
However, the failure of Hanoi summit might have give some relief to china which feels that as long as US-North Korea talks remain hindered its role of a negotiator is intact.
A Surprise Meet
After the Hanoi summit broke down, the two leaders met again on 30th June 2019. The all-of-a-sudden meeting happened just after the G20 summit in Osaka where Mr. Trump (first by an US President) offered to meet the North Korean leader in the demilitarized zone. The demilitarized zone is 4 km strip of land which runs for 250 km dividing the two Koreas. It was on this demilitarized zone that the two countries had fought to reach a cease fire and not a peace agreement. So the meet was historic in itself.
The nuclear negotiations had broken down after the Hanoi summit and North Korea had criticized both the US Secretary Of State and the South Korean leadership stalling all talks. This meet in the demilitarized zone indicates Mr. Trump’s conviction on diplomacy being the only tool to reach a deal with Chairman Kim. He reiterated here that ““speed is not the object. We want to see if we can do a really comprehensive, good deal.”
Similarly Mr. Kim has shown keen interest in engaging with the US and opening some part of North Korea’s economy which needs relief from sanctions. The North Korea has time and again explained that the North Korean programme is anchored in deterrence and not in expansionism. So, Mr. Trump’s diplomatic outreach is a pragmatic step in dealing with the Korean nuclear crisis.
To reach to agreement both the countries face two key challenges. The first and foremost is the historic mistrust between the two parties. North Korea believes that it was betrayed by the US several times since the Korean War. The ‘Agreed Framework’ was signed in 1990s between the US and the North Korea to halt nuclear activities. However the later US administration turned hostile towards North Korea and Pyongyang pulled out of the ‘Agreed Framework’. So a key challenge would be putting trust on each other and a guarantee that they don’t turn on each other.
The second key challenge is Mr. Trump’s foreign policies. Under Mr. Trump the US pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed with Iran by previous US administration and other world powers. Iran had agreed to halt its nuclear enrichment on the conditions of lifting the sanctions. However the US-Iran relations have deteriorated further imposing more sanctions and now they are on a warpath in West Asia. Another example that could be taken up would be of Libya and its leader Muammar Qaddafi, who even after giving up his nuclear programme was attacked and killed. The nuclear programme is insurance for North Korea against any encroachment by any foreign power and a potential regime change.