The historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on June 12 in Singapore was the first-ever 'face to face' encounter between a serving U.S. president and an authoritarian North Korean supreme leader in about 70 years. The past presidents, including Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama, did not sit 'face-to-face' with any North Korean dictator to halt his nuclear programme. Moreover, earlier denuclearisation deals have failed because of North Korea's flouting tactics.
The Singapore summit has been described as "a signature moment for Trump and his challenge to the foreign policy establishment." Trump's strategy focused on "Complete, verifiable, irreversible disarmament" (CVID) of the Korean peninsula. The U.S. allies South Korea and Japan also wanted complete and confirmable denuclearisation in the interest of their national security.
Analysts on global diplomacy think that the contemporary international politics and diplomatic history have hardly witnessed such a summit embedded with big political and security stakes, than the just concluded Trump-Kim summit in Singapore. Ostensibly, the crucial Trump objective of the momentous summit was: Axing North Korea's ambitious nuclear warheads and missiles programme. The policy option was: Assuring Kim's regime with security guarantees in exchange for complete denuclearisation. But analysts pointed out that both the countries had been "worlds apart" on the definition of complete "denuclearisation".
However, the materialisation of a potential summit continued amid openly hostile bouts between the two unpredictable leaders during the past three months or so. But ice began melting after a constructive diplomacy by the South Korean President Moon Jae-in. He met Kim twice in a month (May 2018) and also met Trump to influence them for a potential engagement to reach an agreement.
The summit was pursued by Kim, a third generation dictator, mainly for three reasons. First, his real concerns about nuclear threats by Trump; second, a quest to remove stringent UN economic sanctions; third, to de-escalate military tensions in the region and begin new relations with the United States.
On the other hand, Trump - who is often labelled by U.S. foreign policy experts as "naïve and reckless", embarked on a national security challenge to initiate a diplomatic process for ending the decades-old nuclear stand-off.
In fact, Moon had been the key game player who diligently brokered the summit between the two adversaries to resolve the nuclear stalemate for a permanent peace in the Korean peninsula. In early March 2018, President Trump first agreed on the proposed meeting with Kim, whom he once deplored as a "Little Rocket Man".
On May 14, Trump abruptly withdrew from the much expected summit by writing a letter to Kim, citing open hostility towards the U.S. Trump's decision came as a bolt from the blue. After renewed diplomacy by Moon, conciliatory response from Kim, and direct negotiation by Kim's right-hand man Kim Yong Chol who is North Korean top nuclear negotiator, Trump reinstated the June 12 summit.
According to the Korea watchers, it was the commencement of an incredible 'on-again, off-again' high stake Singapore summit. President Trump claimed that the talks with Kim were "honest, direct and productive," and a significant step forward towards establishing peace in the Korean peninsula.
The four generalised features of the signed joint statement were: (a) The USA and North Korea commit to establish new relations; (b) Kim's reaffirmation of his promise for complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula; (c) Trump's pledge to provide security guarantees to North Korea; and (d) Rapid repatriation of the remains of American POW/MIA warriors who expired in the Korean War.
The historic summit document will remain as a framework for future high-level diplomatic engagement between the two countries. The joint statement opened a new chapter in ending seven decades of antagonistic relations. However, pursuing 'new relationship' between the U.S. and North Korea remained a wide-ranging issue without specifics. The document did not mention whether the two countries would launch diplomatic ties soon.
Critics also pointed out that no time-frame for denuclearisation had been agreed upon by Trump and Kim. It did not offer detailed road-map for CVID, which the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo previously insisted on. The Washington Post (June 12) observed, "There was no mention in the statement of U.S. terms for disarmament: not a word about verification, or irreversibility, or timelines." Obviously, it will take a decade or more for complete denuclearisation.
After nearly a five-hour summit, Kim said that he and Trump, "Decided to leave the past behind" and promised "The world will see a major change." According to analysts, Kim's regime has apparently achieved international legitimacy by having a summit with Trump as equals. On the other hand, Trump held, "the meeting that went better than expected." He declared that he and Kim had "developed a special bond". But foreign policy analysts claimed that the deal is far less than Trump hitherto wanted to realise.
In a post-summit press conference, President Trump confidently said that Kim will "Live up to the document" and sanctions against North Korea will not be removed any time soon. But then, Trump assured to halt his country's "very provocative" and costly annual "war games" with its long-standing ally South Korea. Certainly, it was a substantial concession and unexpected gift to North Korea.
Analysts think Trump's decision to suspend military drills and a desire to withdraw the U.S. troops, which North Korea has long wanted, surprised South Korea, Japan, the U.S. military and others. Indeed, China will get a chance to consolidate its supremacy in Asia in case the U.S. withdraws its 28,000 troops from South Korea.
The U.S. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has criticised the joint statement. She said, "In his haste to reach an agreement, President Trump elevated North Korea to the level of the U.S. while preserving the regime's status quo." Notably, Australia, Britain, China, India, Russia and South Korea have positively reacted to the outcome of the Trump-Kim summit.
We may sum up that the summit between Trump and Kim promises bold transformation, but lacks specifics in the joint statement. However, it will remain as a new landmark chapter in modern diplomatic history. The world only hopes the agreement at the summit will be executed to pave the way for permanent peace in the Korean peninsula.
Dr. Kamal Uddin Ahmed is a former Professor and Chairman, Department of Political Science, University of Dhaka.
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