The second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un took place in Vietnam, but the meeting came to an abrupt end without the leaders being able to sign an agreement. A working lunch they had planned was also canceled. It was an unusual turn of events that came across as a rupture in negotiations. One might say the leaders were in the same place but in different worlds.
In a news conference, Trump said that Kim, chairman of the Workers Party of Korea, had offered to dismantle its Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center. Trump said Pyongyang wanted sanctions against North Korea lifted in their entirety. The president responded that other conditions were required for the lifting of sanctions, such as a complete report of all nuclear facilities. As a result, the talks apparently became deadlocked.
While stating that there was a "gap" between the United States and North Korea on this point, Trump looked back on the meeting as a favorable encounter, saying the he and Kim had had a "productive time."
Kim, on the other hand, left the hotel where the talks were being held appearing disgruntled. For the time being, U.S. and North Korean officials have been left in an unstable position, not knowing whether a third summit can be held.
Having said that, severing negotiations can sometimes be more beneficial than diving into an agreement. Before the summit, some had feared that Trump was already set on reaching a deal and that he would make major concessions to do so. Some observers also speculated that Trump, with an eye on the Nobel Peace Prize as he seeks another term in office, would move to declare an official end to the Korean War fought from 1950-1953, or permit some economic exchange between North and South Korea.
Picking up on Trump's forward-leaning stance, North Korea came out strong, requesting the full lifting of sanctions, but this move backfired. We want to give Trump recognition for not compromising on the path leading toward the denuclearization of North Korea.
Trump probably judged that he wouldn't be able to avoid criticism if he had concluded an agreement that went easy on North Korea. This is because he earlier pulled of the nuclear agreement with Iran reached under the administration of former President Barack Obama on the grounds that it was "fatally flawed."
Still, the latest summit came roughly eight months after the first one between Trump and Kim in June last year, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other officials had had repeated contact with North Korea. It is therefore hard to say that there was not enough preparation time. The administration needs to reflect humbly on the fact that in spite of this, the talks ended in what was close to a rupture.
In the first place, the definition of "denuclearization" remains vague. There is also a perception gap between the two countries over the procedures and time required for denuclearization, and the conditions for lifting sanctions.
At first, the United States called for the "complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization" of North Korea in a short time, but recently it has instead often referred to a "final, fully verified denuclearization." Trump himself stated that he was in no rush to denuclearize North Korea.
Leaving things as they are will only bewilder international society. The U.S. should listen to the opinions of other countries with an interest in the issue and steady its footing for negotiations. Trump called Kim a "great leader," and said he "fell in love" with him, but such flattery can only go so far.
Trump sees himself as a great negotiator, and his comments making light of previous U.S. administrations' policies toward North Korea stood out. In the latest summit, he probably got a taste of the difficulty of negotiations with Pyongyang. Particular caution is required when it comes to nuclear negotiations. First Trump must reflect on his tendency to be overconfident, and revise his top-down approach to solving the nuclear issue.
Back in 1987, during the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. This was the year after the collapse of the Reykjavik Summit. This goes to show that steady negotiations are necessary. It would be a major loss for the world to return to the U.S.-North Korea confrontation seen two years ago, which raised concerns about nuclear war.
It is uncertain what stance North Korea will adopt in the future, but we hope that Kim will calmly continue negotiations with the United States.
Trump stated that North Korea has "tremendous economic potential" and this is no lie. Working toward denuclearization is the only way to enrich North Korea.
In the summit, Kim is said to have promised to continue a ban on nuclear testing and missile launches. We hope that he will keep his word. He should make a clear departure from the troublemaking logic of threatening neighboring countries and international society with nuclear weapons and missiles.
In the meantime, the direction of the Trump-Russia collusion investigations remains a matter of concern for the U.S. president. A report by special counsel Robert Mueller is due to be presented in the near future, and depending on the outcome, momentum could grow within Congress to impeach Trump.
As the latest summit went ahead, Michael Cohen, a former lawyer to Trump criticized the president in Congress in connection with the collusion investigations, calling him a "con man" among other things. While trouble abounds at home, we hope that Trump will continue to put effort into negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang, and that the promise to denuclearize North Korea will be kept.