Tuesday , 21 May 2019

The World Is Watching Trump’s Korea Initiative

US President Donald Trump has finally announced the place and date of his meeting with North Korean President Kim Jong-un: Singapore, June 12. Trump’s announcement came following a long meeting at the White House with Kim Yong-chol, the North Korean President’s right-hand man, who delivered a personal letter from him to the US President. The Trump-Kim summit will follow the meeting in April of Kim Jong-un with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in. Raising a lot of hope, Kim and Moon agreed to work to remove all nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula and, within the year, pursue talks with the United States to declare an official end to the Korean War, which ravaged the peninsula from 1950 to 1953. It was the first time a North Korean leader had set foot on the South Korean soil since the start of the Korean War. The world was amazed to hear the leaders of two Koreas vowing to negotiate a treaty to replace a truce that has kept an uneasy peace on the divided Korean Peninsula. A peace treaty has been one of the incentives North Korea has demanded in return for dismantling its nuclear programme.

The high hopes for end of the Korean War with reconciliation and denuclearisation of the peninsula have got even greater boost with Donald Trump stepping in as a peacemaker. The Trump-Kim summit in politically neutral Singapore is being seen as a great opportunity for closing down some dark chapters of the Korean history that were written with the blood of the Second World War and the Cold War with the emergence of a bipolar world divided between the US and USSR. Peoples of both North Korea and South Korea have called for coming together of the two Koreas and no more bloodshed, hostility, antagonism and threat. They have been pressing for peace and economic prosperity in both the Koreas, with more of economic, cultural and people-to-people exchange between them.

However, the world will watch with interest how the first Trump-Kim summit at Singapore goes. True, Trump is not the first US President to try for an agreement with North Korea on denuclearisation and complete peace on the Korean Peninsula. Just as the North Korean President sent Kim Yong-chol, his right-hand man and the vice chairman of the central committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea to meet President Donald Trump at the White House in 2018, so had the then North Korean President sent his trusted man Vice Marshal Jo Yong-rok to meet President Bill Clinton and US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 2000. Since he took over as President, Kim Jong-un has declared his interest in end of hostilities between the two Koreas, denuclearisation and economic cooperation. However, how much of that interest actually translates into action remains to be seen.

The world is not expecting a change overnight in the Korean situation with the Trump-Kim meeting, largely because there have been international efforts made in the past decades for denuclearising the Korean Peninsula that have miserably failed. Even nuclear agreements were signed with North Korea in 1994 and 2005, but the agreements did work. The international community, except China among major powers, imposed isolation on North Korea, but the country’s leadership did not accept the international terms of denuclearisation. The crucial thing in keeping the promise of denuclearisation is that the North Korea must show to the international community that it is enforcing CVID (complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement). North Korea has so far failed to convince the world that it was enforcing CVID. It might be relevant here to note that the US recently called off the nuclear deal with Iran on the ground that there were not enough safeguards for CVID. Donald Trump is expected to demand of Kim Jong-un a total commitment to CVID. If it is missing, the fresh talks for denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula might go waste.

However, there is no harm in trying anew. The pessimism about the success of the Trump initiative comes from the repeated failure of such efforts which the world attributes mainly to North Korea’s unwillingness to end its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. Nothing may change with the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore. The two leaders are not going to sign any deal straightaway. However, the summit will open channels of diplomatic communications. Let us see what Kim Jong-un has to offer. Let us also see what the US is going to offer him. Kim has said as long as Korea is assured of its security he has no need for nuclear weapons. Will Trump be the guarantor of North Korea’s security?