Viewpoint by Jayantha Dhanapala*
KANDY (IDN) – Donald Trump has always had the capacity to surprise us. Amidst the actions to fulfil his Presidential Campaign promise to "Make America Great Again" by slapping tariffs on friendly allies and having declared Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel, he has now signalled a dramatic volte-face on talks with Kim Jong-un of the Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK) whom he had frequently taunted as the "little rocket man".
The urbane U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Africa mending fences with the OAU (Organisation of African Unity) by assuring them that Trump did not quite identify them with a certain part of the human anatomy. Only the Secretary of Defence and the National Security Adviser were in the room when two envoys from the Republic of Korea (ROK) came to the White House on March 9 bearing the DPRK leader's offer of direct talks. Trump twittered his favourable response and promptly, and wisely, telephoned both the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Chinese President Xi Jin Ping.
The location, precise date and agenda of the meeting have still to be determined, and the seismic shock is still being measured on the political Richter scale. But the Kissinger engineered Nixon-Mao meeting in 1972 comes closest in comparison with obvious differences in terms of the issues at stake and the global repercussions of the meeting between the leader of the world's largest nuclear weapon state and largest economic power and the leader of the newest nuclear weapon armed state which has resolutely remained outside the global nuclear non-proliferation regime for fifty years and has just proved its capacity to launch inter-continental missiles to reach the U.S. mainland.
The outcome of the Trump-Kim Summit may well turn out to be a disappointing damp squib, the actual meeting remains uncertain, and the agenda may be subject to debate. However kudos must go to the President of the Republic of Korea, Moon Jae-in, after his ground breaking diplomacy over the Winter Olympics and the visit of the DPRK delegation which included the smiling sister of Kim Jong-un followed up by the visit of the ROK delegation to Pyongyang.
An inter-Korean dialogue is in the best interests of the global community achieving a permanent peace that has eluded the Peninsula since the Korean War (1950-1953) creating tension in East Asia. While U.S.-Russian polemics go on, the co-operation of China and Japan are vital for the success of the meeting and the permanence of its outcome.
- North and South Korea will hold a summit at the end of April in Panmunjom. (This will be in the House of Peace on the 38th parallel which this writer has visited. A preliminary meeting gives some ownership of the process to the two parts of Korea.)
- South and North Korea will establish a hotline between their leaders, with the first call to be held before the summit.
- North Korea says it is willing to denuclearize and has no reason to possess nuclear weapons if the military threat against it is removed and the regime's security guaranteed.
- North Korea expressed willingness to hold candid talks with the United States regarding denuclearization and the normalization of North Korea-U.S. relations.
- North Korea said it will not conduct nuclear or missile tests while talks are taking place, and it will not use nuclear or conventional weaponry towards South Korea.
- North Korea says it "understands" the inevitable resumption of U.S.-South Korean military exercises, but expects they can be adjusted if the peninsula enters a stable period. (This final point was added as a response to questions at the press conference of the ROK envoys.)
Secretary of State Tillerson had sometime ago softened America's stance on possible talks with North Korea, calling it "unrealistic" to expect the nuclear-armed country to come to the table ready to give up a weapons of mass destruction program that it invested so much in developing. Tillerson said his boss, President Donald Trump, endorses this position.
More recently Sieg Hecker former Director of the Los Alamos Laboratory, and in my view one of the best U.S. experts on the DPRK nuclear weapon capability, stated in a recent article in 'Foreign Affairs': "Washington should be ready to reciprocate – or if necessary, to initiate the discussion. Talking would not represent a reward or concession, or a signal of U.S. acceptance of a nuclear-armed North Korea.
"It would instead be a first step toward reducing the risks of a nuclear catastrophe and developing a better understanding of the other side. Ultimately, that understanding may even help inform a negotiating strategy to halt, roll back, and eventually eliminate North Korea's nuclear program."
Trump has acted pragmatically and may even have taken a statesmanlike position.
*Jayantha Dhanapala is a former Sri Lanka Ambassador and UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs. He was also President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs for ten years until August 2017. [IDN-InDepthNews – 11 March 2018]
Photo: The House of Peace on the 38th parallel, likely to be the venue of the Trump-Kim summit by May 2018. Source: lifeinkorea.com
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