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The Peninsula

The Neither Nor Singapore Summit

Published June 15, 2018
Author: Mark Tokola
Category: North Korea

By Mark Tokola

The June 12 summit meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un was neither a triumph nor a defeat for the United States or North Korea.  Rather than reading the Joint Statement as a deal to be judged, it is more accurate to see it as a glimpse of a process.   In standard diplomacy, a summit communique or joint statement would reflect the end of a negotiation – a public announcement of the deal that was struck, usually following many negotiating sessions.  President Trump was explicit before the Singapore Summit that he thought the June 12 meeting would only be the first of several, perhaps many that he would be holding with Kim Jong-un.

The Joint Statement describes the core of the negotiation to come: denuclearization in exchange for security guarantees.  Neither term is described in any detail, which seems appropriate for opening positions.  The details that were provided in post-summit comments suggest that much more was discussed during the meetings than appear in the Joint Statement.  That is also appropriate for an ongoing negotiation.

President Trump’s announcement of a suspension of “war games” while satisfactory progress is being made did not appear in the Joint Statement but is a key point.  The fact that the North Korean post-summit description of the suspension as being “over a period of good-will dialogue between the DPRK and the U.S.” shows a common understanding of what the President offered.  That makes it sound as if it was discussed in the meeting.

President Trump’s assertion that North Korea would soon be taking concrete steps towards denuclearization also hints that Kim Jong-un made an offer that has not been made public.  Similarly, there is no mention of the lifting of sanctions in the Joint Statement, but the North Korean account of the meeting states that the President offered to do so.  We simply do not know what has been agreed to at this point, but state-to-state negotiations generally are not carried out in the public eye.  It is for historians later to work out how deals were made.

There are two encouraging points that can be seen in the Joint Declaration.  One is the North Korean commitment to “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”  Although what North Korea means by that is unclear, it is certainly progress over its 2017 statements that North Korea would never dismantle its nuclear weaponry.  Yes, North Korea promised to “denuclearize” in 1992, 1994, 2000, 2005, and 2007 so this is not a new commitment, but its restatement of the commitment in 2018 is at least a place to start this round of talks.

The other encouraging point is that the specific language of the Joint Statement indicates that both sides worked on the text.  U.S. drafters were unlikely to have come up with the phrase, “…epochal event of great significance.”  That sounds rather North Korean.  Joint drafting shows the two sides are actually talking to one another.  Good.

The June 12 summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un was a historic event.  We do not know whether it was historic because it marked the beginning of a peaceful resolution to the Korea problem, or whether it was historic as a false dawn before the Korean Peninsula became even more tension-filled and dangerous.  Based on what we know today, neither outcome is predetermined.

Mark Tokola is the Vice President of the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from Richard’s photostream on flick Creative Commons.

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