Will the U.S./North Korea Summit Actually Happen? By Jun Kwon
There was a dramatic breakthrough regarding the North Korean Nuclear conundrum. After briefing President Trump on their recent talks with Kim Jong Un, South Korean officials made the announcement that “Kim expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible. President Trump appreciated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong Un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization.”
It was a bit awkward the news of the high-stakes summit was not delivered by President Trump or official White House channels, but by South Korean officials who relayed verbal messages between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump. Still, the plan of the summit is an extraordinary and positive development regarding the North Korean Nuclear issue.
Will the U.S.-North Korean summit really happen in May?
I have long insisted that the direct talks between the U.S. and North Korea is the best and only way to solve the nuclear confrontation. North Korea’s ambitions to acquire ICBMs and nuclear weapons have been driven by deep-seated fear of regime collapse caused by a U.S. military attack. A summit now appears possible with hopes that Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim could achieve a grand bargain to provide permanent solutions to the nuclear confrontation, yet a bumpy road with many possible stumbling blocks lies ahead.
As a matter of fact, there have been several attempts at direct talks over the last two decades. One of the notable endeavors was the 2000 diplomatic drama- the closet moment to a summit talk between President Clinton and Kim Jong Il, father of the current leader Kim Jong Un.
There are some resemblances between 2000 and the possible summit in May. Both got initiated by inter-Korean reconciliations.
Following the first historic summit between Kim Jong Il and the then president of South Korea, Kim Dae-jung in June 2000, North Korea sent a special envoy to Washington to deliver a letter to invite President Clinton to Pyongyang. Kim reiterated his commitment to implementation of the Agreed Framework signed in 1994. Secretary Albright visited North Korea in October 2000 to prepare for a visit by President Clinton. During her visit, Kim promised that North Korea refrained for testing the Taepodong missiles.
President Clinton’s visit to Pyongyang; however, did not turn into a reality for several reasons. The incoming George W. Bush administration was highly skeptical of North Korea’s commitments and chose not to follow diplomatic path cultivated by the previous Clinton administration and instead implemented hardline policies toward North Korea. The hardline approach to Pyongyang was mainly derived from the mistrust of Kim regime which had been deeply entrenched in the Bush administration that Kim would never verifiably give up nuclear weapons.
The U.S. has never veered from its adamant position of Complete, Verifiable and Irreversible Denuclearization (CVID). CVID is a precondition for the direct talks including a summit meeting. The U.S. has demanded that North Korea completely give up all their nuclear weapons and programs, including verified dismantling by a team of the international inspectors and a commitment to not rebuild their nuclear program.
The CVID condition was already reiterated and emphasized at the White House briefing just one day after the news of the possible summit. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that “They've got to follow through on the promises that they’ve made, and we want to see concrete and verifiable actions.”
To the contrary, North Korea views CVID as a possible outcome that the U.S. and North Korea can work together to achieve through talks and a summit meeting. North Korea’s focus has always been placed on CVIG which means “Complete, Verifiable and Irreversible Guarantee of regime survival.”
Kim has made it clear that he is committed to denuclearization and to the halt of further nuclear or missile tests only if and when the United States guarantees it would not try to overthrow the regime by force.
North Korea is highly likely to propose the issue of turning a simple armistice between the U.S. and North Korea into a genuine peace treaty and the diplomatic normalization as the summit agendas.
There is no doubt that talk of a summit between President Trump and Mr. Kim offers an opportunity to ease nuclear tension and confrontations. Even if satisfactory agreement on the summit for both sides may not be reached, the summit is itself a historic and meaning turnaround.
Both leaders could find themselves agreeing to disagree and could pave the roads for further dialogues. In the coming weeks leading up to the summit meeting, the U.S. needs to take an approach with considerable flexibility in lowering the threshold for making it possible for the summit talk to occur. If the Trump administration adheres to a strict CVID as a precondition or places more egregious preconditions which may not be accepted by North Korea, the prospects for the summit meeting may fall apart.
North Korea also needs to display its sincere commitment to the denuclearization and the summit through indubitable actions as they demolished a nuclear cooling tower in 2008, which was the most visible and prominent symbol of its nuclear facilities. Or North Korea may send a humanitarian gesture to the U.S. by releasing three American citizens who have been detained in North Korean prison.
I sincerely hope that the summit meeting between President Trump and Mr. Kim will take place and that they will turn this spectacular political event into a meaningful outcome to permanent peace. Despite many hurdles ahead of the summit meeting, Mr. Trump’s quixotic leadership style may make it possible for the summit talk with Mr. Kim to take place. It is ironic that we hope that President Trump’s unorthodox approach could play a role in enabling the summit dialogue to happen.
Jun Kwon is Assistant Professor of Government at Utica College.