International experts skeptical about possible outcomes of US–DPRK Summit
19 March 2018. PenzaNews. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un seeks to sign a peace deal and establish diplomatic relations with the US, Tona Ilbo newspaper reported on March 12, citing a source of the administration of the South Korean leader.
“Kim Jong-un’s final goal is to establish normal diplomatic relations with the US, as well as to set up a US embassy in Pyongyang”, the source said.
Earlier, US President Donald Trump has accepted invitation to meet with North Korean leader for talks by the end of May, predicting “tremendous success” in upcoming summit with Kim Jong-un.
“I think North Korea is going to go very well, I think we will have tremendous success. I think this is going to be something very successful. We have a lot of support… So that would be great,” Donald Trump said as quoted in a White House press release.
In turn, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin noted that the summit is possible only if Pyongyang refuses from nuclear and missile tests.
“Well first of all let me be clear. The president has been very clear in what the objective is here. And that is to get rid of nuclear weapons on the peninsula. […] Now we have a situation where the president is using diplomacy, but we’re not removing the maximum pressure campaign [towards Pyongyang]. […] The president is going to sit down and see if he can cut a deal [with Kim Jong-un],” the politician told NBC.
Analyzing the probability of holding a summit, Grant Newsham, Senior Research Fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies in Tokyo, with experience as a US Diplomat and US Marine Officer, said that the timing for the preparation of the event is very short.
“Obviously there are many details to work out before a US–DPRK Summit. Besides the logistics, each side needs to determine whether there is even room to negotiate. If the Americans demand the North Koreans discuss ‘denuclearization’ while Pyongyang refuses to put this on the agenda, the talks might not even take place. […] I wouldn’t imagine them meeting before May, since the logistics would be too hard to arrange,” he told PenzaNews.
Besides, he said he’s skeptical about the effectiveness of the potential summit.
“It’s perhaps the nature of Americans to think that if they can just get in the room and talk to an adversary a deal can be cut. Unfortunately, a quarter century of experience with North Korea suggests it’s far more likely the Kim regime is playing for time – while perhaps squeezing some money, food, fuel, or sanctions relief from the Americans and the South Koreans,” Grant Newsham explained.
In his opinion, the crisis on the peninsula is provoked exclusively by the DPRK and the Kim dynasty.
“Many observers overlook the nature of the North Korean regime. The Kim regime is totalitarian and murderous, and its long-term objective is to split the US–ROK alliance and reunite the peninsula under Pyongyang’s control. The regime’s successful missile and nuclear development programs conducted over the last several decades are a means to that end. […] As long as the Kim regime is in power, I don’t see how there will be lasting peace or stability in the region,” the analyst said, stressing, however, that he welcomes the meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, because “Kim is the only one who matters” in the North Korean system.
Meanwhile, Clive Williams from the Australian National University said that a leadership summit “still seems an awkward scenario.”
“The North Korean situation remains unpredictable given the erratic and inexperienced North Korean and US leaders, neither of whom understands the other. It would have to be preceded by officials' talks with widely differing expectations of what is negotiable and achievable,” the expert said.
In his opinion, North Korea will not be prepared to give up its hard-gained nuclear deterrent that it believes is essential for regime survival from attack by the US.
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“Given the US's past record of invading and attacking other countries, it is unlikely that any security guarantees would offset its fear of being attacked,” Clive Williams stressed.
At the same time, he drew attention to the fact that North and South Korea have shown a capacity to achieve good outcomes when other parties are not involved.
“The best country to act as a go-between is China. Unlike the US it is not militarily on the ground in the peninsula, but has a good understanding of the North. It could also provide a mutually acceptable venue for a leaders' meeting,” the Australian analyst added.
In turn, American nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker, who served as the Director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and is now affiliated with Stanford University, said that the most surprising is not the Kim’s invitation to Trump but Trump’s acceptance to participate in the summit.
“As well as issuing threats, Trump widely broadcast that he was considering preventive military strikes, and also urged what he calls maximum pressure, both economic and political, on North Korea. He can claim, perhaps even with some justification, that his policies and actions brought Kim Jong-un to the diplomatic table to discuss denuclearization,” the expert said.
“Kim, on the other hand, can tell his people that he is coming to negotiations from a position of strength now that he has intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and can threaten the United States. In other words, both can declare victory,” Siegfried Hecker added.
However, in his opinion, the US administration’s diplomatic team is “understaffed and lacks people who have experience negotiating with North Korea.”
“Time is very tight, especially since these efforts were not preceded by lower-level diplomatic engagement. The administration would be well advised to call on experts outside of government who have diplomatic and technical or military experience in Korea,” the former Director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory said.
According to him, in spite of the willingness to talk by both sides, Washington and Pyongyang have dramatically different views on what brought us to this nuclear crisis.
“It will take a long time and tedious negotiations to resolve. The best we can hope for at this time is for the leaders to reach an understanding that they must avoid war. To do so, they must lower tensions and establish mechanisms to avoid misunderstandings. The Trump administration must enter the summit with the understanding that it represents the beginning of a long journey, not the end destination. Even if an agreement is eventually reached, it will be the follow-through and implementation that determine its success. Washington has done very poorly on both over the years,” Siegfried Hecker said.
Kim’s initiative and Trump’s willingness to meet must be viewed as serious moves to lower tensions on the Korean peninsula, he believes.
At the same time, Denny Roy, Senior Fellow, East-West Center, reminded that sanctions pressure on North Korea today is greater than ever.
“Relations between the DPRK and China remain poor, although China continues to call for the United States to make concessions to Pyongyang. The Trump Administration seems to be seriously considering a preventive military strike against North Korea before it unambiguously gains a nuclear missile capability,” the expert said.
However, according to him, the possibility of a Trump–Kim summit is constructive.
“The meeting suggests Pyongyang might feel compelled to seek a peaceful solution,” Denny Roy stressed.
As of today the Trump Administration seems to be planning for a summit, he believes.
“It might happen, it might not. If the summit does occur, possible outcomes range from a real breakthrough in US–DPRK relations to a brief and false spike in expectations that quickly disappears,” the analyst said.
“Even if the proposed summit does not lead to a permanent solution, at minimum we gain a few months where North Korea has stopped missile and nuclear tests, and therefore its progress toward perfecting a nuclear missile is stalled,” Denny Roy added.
From his point of view, the most important and fundamental development that would improve peace and stability in the region would be an end to the DPRK regime and Seoul taking over administration of the entire Peninsula.
“Short of that, an agreement whereby the DPRK suspended its progress toward a nuclear missile in exchange for improved political and economic relations with Seoul and Washington could end the crisis. The negotiations would need to set up a process whereby both sides take small, verifiable concessionary steps simultaneously, and neither side insists on getting too much from the other side too soon. That means North Korea could not get the sanctions removed immediately, and the United States could not get verifiable de-nuclearization immediately,” Senior Fellow at East-West Center concluded.