ON June 12, President Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore to reinitiate high level dialogue process which was suspended in 1992. Trumps temperamental swings, as reflected in his post G-7 summit tweets, had raised doubts about his seriousness in conducting international diplomacy. The tweets reflected Trumps volatility as a dangerous ingredient of his personality thus raising credibility issues. In Singapore, US expectations and objectives were clear. It wanted a denuclearized North Korea along with dismantled means of delivery may be in a phased program that may take years to complete.
On the other hand, North Korea wanted early removal of sanctions that paves the way for direct foreign investment and help North Korea towards economic development in line with Kim’s development strategy “Byungjin” he outlined in 2013. US-North Korea relations soured with the demarcation of 38 Parallel towards the end of WWII leading up to creation of demilitarized zone that divided Korean Peninsula to this day. During the entire course of cold war, the Korean Peninsula, like other contested zones remained a hot spot for both the rival super powers. In the post-cold war era, the first US-North Korea diplomatic encounter took place in 1992 when Arnold Kanter, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and Kim Young-soon, Secretary of the Workers’ Party met in New York City. This helped North Korean leadership to accurately realize the importance of their nuclear card which forced US to come down to negotiations. North Korea has active and increasingly sophisticated nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, and is believed to possess chemical and biological weapons capabilities too. It unilaterally withdrew from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in January 2003, is not a party to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, and has conducted six increasingly sophisticated nuclear tests since 2006.
North Korea is not a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention and is believed to possess a large chemical weapons program. Despite being a state party to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and Geneva Protocol, evidence suggests North Korea may maintain an offensive biological weapons program. In defiance of the international community, which has imposed heavy sanctions on North Korea, it has continued to escalate its WMD activities. In July 2017, North Korea successfully tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile, and in September 2017 it conducted a test of what it claimed was a thermonuclear weapon. As per independent estimates North Korea has concealed nuclear program on a far larger scale and has built an arsenal of 20 to 60 nuclear warheads. On April 27, 2018 North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met in Demilitarized Zone to discuss bilateral issues. Panmunjom Declaration signed by both leaders called for end of longstanding military activities near border and the reunification of Korea. Cold war politics has permanently converted two Koreas into capitalist and communist models with rivalry as its sole outcome. Swiss educated Chairman Kim’s desire to mend ways with US in exchange for economic assistance/removal of sanctions is not an easy road to traverse specially in presence of his opponent’s firm belief in regime change in Pyongyang.
On June 12, the initial Trump-Kim engagement has set positive tone for the forthcoming dialogue process as can be assessed by both leader’s body language and gestures. Kim’s arrival for the summit meeting seven minutes earlier showed his respect for the 72 years old Trump and signified his desire for peace with the world sole super power. Trump’s offer to Kim to check his bullet proof limo also points toward his cordiality which had been missing for the past two years. Specifics were missing from the signed agreement which indicates the continuation of negotiations in future and prospects of new agreements too. Future diplomatic engagements for starting the denuclearization and dismantling of ICBMs process in return for removal of economic sanctions will be a big success for both. President Trump has not offered anything in concrete terms, like his predecessor Obama who released $150 Billion to Iran as a result of Iran nuclear deal, but his suspension of joint US-South Korea military exercises was well received by the North Koreans.
Trump-Kim Summit meeting in Singapore has set the stage for continuation of comprehensive dialogue process at state level to ease tension and avoid talks of nuclear war. Trump’s move to leave JCPOA was basically focused at a long-term objective of regime change in Tehran through stringent economic sanctions and ultimately discrediting the Government in public eyes. By defanging Pyongyang through denuclearization and dismantling its missile program and delayed removal of economic sanctions, Trump is aiming to achieve a regime change there as well. How North Korea get to a win-win deal with US will largely depend upon flexibility and accommodation both sides are willing to offer in their future engagements.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.