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Uncertainty Abounds As Trump Cancels Summit With Kim

By Ramesh Jaura

Image: Montage of Trump and Kim. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

BERLIN | GENEVA (IDN) – May 24, 2018 smacks of a 'historic day' marked by a smokescreen of uncertainty and speculations in the aftermath of U.S. President Donald Trump calling off his summit meeting with Kim Jong-un, the leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), commonly known as North Korea.

The situation has prompted United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to remark that he is "deeply concerned." Speaking in Geneva on May 24, where he unveiled his new Agenda for Disarmament entitled, Securing Our Common Future, at the University of Geneva, in Switzerland, Guterres called on the U.S. and North Korea "to continue their dialogue to find a path to the peaceful and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

 

The prospects of the summit slated for June 12 inspired roller coaster rides and there were even reports that peace in the Korean Peninsula might fetch Trump the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize. The Korean Peninsula remains one of the world’s longest unresolved conflicts that began in June 1950. An armistice brought about a ceasefire in 1953, but the war never officially ended.

Reports say that President Trump's decision "creates a major crisis" for South Korea's president, Moon Jae-in, who organised the diplomatic thaw that led to the agreement by Trump to meet Kim. He visited Washington on May 22 to reassure the U.S. President about the forthcoming meeting with the DPRK leader.

South Korean sources quoted Moon saying that the cancellation was "disconcerting and very regrettable," adding that the current communication between North Korea and the United States does not work to resolve the disputes between the two nations. He urged Trump and Kim to talk directly.

"The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and building a permanent peace on the peninsula is a task we cannot give up or delay," Moon said in a meeting on May 24 with his National Security Council, according to his office.

The U.S.-DPRK summit meeting was cancelled a few hours after an announcement from North Korea that it had dismantled and closed its nuclear test site at Punggye-ri. According to media reports, three tunnels at the site were reportedly collapsed in explosions conducted May 24 morning and afternoon, local time.

The closure has, however, not been verified by international experts. A spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General said it was “regrettable that international experts were not invited” to the site closing. The statement added that Guterres hopes the site’s closure will contribute to efforts towards sustainable peace in the region.

Announcing the decision to cancel the summit meeting in Singapore, Trump wrote in a letter to Kim: "I was very much looking forward to being there with you." He added: "Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting."

Trump was referring to North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui's remarks reported by the country's official KCNA news service in which U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was described as a "political dummy" after he said Kim could meet the same fate as Libya’s leader, Muammar el-Gaddafi, if he did not make a deal with the United States. Libyan rebels, aided by a NATO bombing campaign, killed Gaddafi during the Arab Spring upheavals in 2011.

"As a person involved in the U.S. affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the U.S. Vice President," Choe said.

Mark Landler and Eileen Sullivan wrote in The New York Times that North Korean officials were infuriated when Trump's national security adviser, John R. Bolton, first floated the voluntary disarmament of Libya in 2003 as a precedent for North Korea.

"We will neither beg the U.S. for dialogue nor take the trouble to persuade them if they do not want to sit together with us," said Pyongyang's vice foreign minister. She said it was up to Washington whether "the U.S. will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown."

In what sounded like a threat, Trump retorted: "You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used." He did not, however, rule out future diplomatic efforts.

Trump's letter left open the possibility that a meeting could get back on track, though he put the onus to do that entirely on North Korea. "If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit,” he wrote to Kim, "please do not hesitate to call me or write."

Trump went on to say that the cancellation of the summit was to the "detriment of the world." North Korea, which initiated new outreach to both South Korea and the United States on January 1, 2018 – was losing the opportunity for "great prosperity and wealth." Trump thanked Kim for releasing three American citizens who had been imprisoned in Pyongyang.

The New Yorker's Robin Wright commented: The cancellation – at least for now – is a huge setback for Trump's most ambitious foreign-policy goal, which could define his legacy. But the Administration’s hasty and sometimes impulsive diplomacy has been troubled from the start.

"It's amazing that it got to this point," Frank Aum, a former Defense Department expert on North Korea who is now at the U.S. Institute of Peace, told Wright. "The summit was botched because of a bad game of telephone. On the one hand, it could be that both sides had sincere intentions, but because of poor communication and insensitivities it fell apart. The other interpretation is that both sides wanted it to fail and they're trying to set each other up as being at fault."

According to the Washington-based Arms Control Association (ACA), North Korea has long maintained that its nuclear weapons are a deterrent against U.S. ‘hostile policy.’ Threatening “total decimation" if Pyongyang does not give up its arsenal only reinforces that belief.

Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, and Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy are of the view that comprehensive, verifiable denuclearization of North Korea and establishment of a peace regime on the peninsula remains the proper long-term goal.

"But achieving genuine progress requires a negotiating framework and agreement on the details of phased, reciprocal steps rather than U.S. economic rewards only after full denuclearization is achieved. Such a process requires time and patience and persistence," Kimball and Davenport said. "Successful diplomatic nonproliferation outcomes do not come easily or quickly."

The Arms Control Association advises Trump in the coming days, to resist the urge to abandon diplomacy, make irresponsible threats, which will only reinforce North Korea's incentive to further improve its nuclear and missile activities and greatly increase the likelihood of a catastrophic confrontation. There is no viable military solution to the North Korean challenge.

"We urge Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in coordination with our allies and partners in the region, to continue engaging with his North Korean counterparts to advance efforts to halt and reverse the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programs and to reduce tensions with Pyongyang, including by supporting the inter-Korean dialogue," the ACA said.

The statement continues: Whether by accident or by design, Trump’s top advisors contributed to creating a hostile environment around the summit. It is unsurprising that loose talk from National Security Advisor John Bolton and Vice President Mike Pence about “the Libya model” for denuclearization and recent comments from Pence threatening war if North Korea does not agree to a deal triggered a strong reaction from Pyongyang.

The tone of North Korea’s reaction was clearly unhelpful, but it is not surprising. Unfortunately, Trump got spooked when he should have stayed calm and carried on, the ACA said.

The Association added: "His (Trump's) strongly worded letter to Kim canceling the summit was irresponsible and risks the opportunity for future negotiations with North Korea. His language comparing nuclear weapon sizes only increases the likelihood that the United States and North Korea will return to a tit-for-tat escalation that characterized 2017 and increase the risk of war." [IDN-InDepthNews – 25 May 2018]

Image: Montage of Trump and Kim. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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