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Failed Hanoi Summit helps US and DPRK leaders take fresh look at situation

13:54 | 08.03.2019 | Analytic


8 March 2019. PenzaNews. US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un were unable to reach an agreement at a summit held in the capital of Vietnam on February 27–28, and therefore did not sign the final document that has been earlier called Hanoi Declaration.

Failed Hanoi Summit helps US and DPRK leaders take fresh look at situation

Photo: Flickr.com/whitehouse

According to the head of the White House, North Korea has put forward demands for the lifting of all sanctions, but the United States cannot yet make such a move.

“You always have to be prepared to walk. I could’ve signed an agreement today, […] but it just wasn’t appropriate. I want to do it right. I’d much rather do it right than do it fast,” Donald Trump said at a press conference following the Summit.

“He [Kim Jong-un] wants the sanctions for that,” he said. “And he wants to denuke, but he wants to just do areas that are less important than the areas that we want. We know that — we know the country very well, believe it or not. We know every inch of that country. And we have to get what we have to get.”

In turn, DPRK Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho said that North Korea offered only partial removal of sanctions in exchange for dismantling nuclear facilities in Yongbyon.

“We asked for the cancellation of only those sanctions that harm the civilian sector of the economy and the lives of ordinary people. We did not ask to remove all sanctions,” he stressed.

Meanwhile, the White House official statement says that the two leaders had “very good and constructive meetings” and discussed various ways of further denuclearization process.

“No agreement was reached at this time, but their respective teams look forward to meeting in the future,” the statement says.

Commenting on the results of difficult negotiations, Denny Roy, Senior Fellow, East-West Center, called the lack of an agreement in Hanoi a temporary failure.

“I think it’s an exaggeration to call it a complete failure or collapse of diplomacy. Remember that Trump at one point cancelled the Singapore Summit, but planning for it resumed soon afterward. US-DPRK talks will continue and another summit is possible, but probably not before at least a few months,” he told PenzaNews.

According to him, the main reason for this outcome of the negotiations is that the parties did not pay more attention to the preparatory stage.

“The US side wanted lots of de-nuclearization in exchange for little sanctions relief. The North Korean side wanted lots of sanctions relief in exchange for little de-nuclearization. They couldn’t reach a mutually-agreeable middle ground. The real problem was the lack of preparatory work prior to the summit, which ordinarily would produce an agreement before the top leaders meet. The North Koreans had reason to hope that Trump would go off-script and make a deal not approved by his advisors, one that would be unbalanced in North Korea’s favor. That complicated preparatory talks because the North Koreans didn’t take the US envoys seriously, knowing that Trump could overrule them,” Denny Roy said.

From his point of view, in this case Trump seems to have more closely followed the advice of his top advisors.

“Note that Pompeo actually shared the stage with Trump in post-summit press conference. Many US analysts were pleasantly surprised that Trump drove such a hard bargain with Pyongyang and was willing to sacrifice the opportunity to claim a hollow diplomatic victory,” the East-West Center expert added.

According to him, tensions on the peninsula still can remain low.

“The US will continue to maintain sanctions and North Korea will continue to be a virtual nuclear weapons state. That is the new status quo. Both countries have an incentive to try again to make progress. But for Americans, North Korea is no longer an urgent problem. There was far more coverage on US cable TV news of the Michael Cohen testimony than of the Hanoi summit,” Denny Roy said.

Meanwhile, Michael O’Hanlon, Senior Fellow at Brookings University and an author of several publications for the National Interest magazine, expressed hope for a better understanding between Pyongyang and Washington in the foreseeable future, and stressed that those failed negotiations were necessary for both participants of the summit.

“Both sides needed to recalibrate. North Korea especially needed to know Trump would walk in the face of a bad deal,” the analyst explained.

In his opinion, the United States and the DPRK should not take a too tough stance towards each other.

“So there may be hope [for change of situation for the better], if the two sides can be supple and seek a partial deal and a middle ground,” Michael O’Hanlon said.

In turn, 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 “one shouldn’t get his hopes up” regarding the US and North Korea.

“So I wasn’t surprised with the outcome. But something very good came out of it, I think. In any sort of negotiation it’s good not to appear desperate for a deal. This is especially true when dealing with an enemy,” he said.

According to the expert, Americans too often come across as patsies who will always give in – and make last minute accommodations to last minute demands so a deal can be reached.

“Oddly, this applies to both US Government and private business as well. And the people on the other side of the table know well. Seeing Mr Trump walk away – even before lunch – was good to see. It must have discombobulated the North Koreans,” Grant Newsham suggested.

“Mr Trump has correctly set the stage for more negotiations – and made it clear he won’t get rolled. And his position is bolstered by still having the option of stricter sanctions – both against NK and China – in addition to a powerful military option that is on the menu – even if it ought to be the very last option,” he added.

According to the analyst, now there will be quiet moves by both sides to ‘reengage.’

“I doubt the US has a precisely laid out ‘Plan B’ besides a willingness to talk and see what happens – while holding serious sanctions and a military option in the back pocket,” the US ex-diplomat said.

In his opinion, South Korean domestic politics are a complicating factor.

“President Moon and some of his advisors are desperate to cut a deal with North Korea – and in fact see the Americans as the problem that keeps the peninsula divided. And then there’s the PRC – that has done its best to keep the Kim regimes in power. Don't forget that Mr Trump faces a Democratic controlled Congress that has gone insane. It appears more interested in destroying Mr Trump than in supporting a settlement with North Korea that might prevent tens of thousands of young Americans from dying in a shoot-up on the peninsula someday,” Grant Newsham said.

According to Jonathan Berkshire Miller, Senior Fellow with the Asian Forum Japan (AFJ), the Hanoi summit was a disappointment.

“There is no way to sugar-coat that fact from a diplomatic perspective, with a cancelled dinner and joint statement. Clearly, there was – and still is – a need for more thorough working-level preparation ahead of the summit as was exposed by the large gaps found during the summit discussions,” he explained.

“That said, the silver-lining remains that the US did not accept a poor deal, as the one offered by North Korea during the summit, and it was prudent to walk away rather than agree to significant UNSC sanctions reduction for significant, but still incomplete, concessions on the Yongbyon nuclear complex,” the expert added.

A good sign, in his opinion, was also the fact that both sides have resisted to launch incendiary messages towards each other on the summit failure.

“Washington and Pyongyang remain invested in the process now and likely ‘Plan B’ will be to take this back to the working-level and have more considered negotiation and concrete proposals, and perhaps less emphasis on ineffective summits,” Jonathan Berkshire Miller concluded.

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