On the backside of another historic summit between North and South Korea, a renewed pledge of ongoing peace in the region is being lauded by President Trump and the two leaders of the Korean peninsula.
In a joint statement, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un pledged to permanently abolish his country’s key missile facilities in the presence of foreign experts and close the main nuclear facility — assuming the U.S. engages in previously discussed reciprocity.
In a similar show of goodwill, South Korea’s Moon Jae-in has agreed to resume economic cooperation, including working to reconnect railways and roads, the restart of a joint factory park on the border, and renew tours to the North’s Mount Kumgang resort.
It’s beginning to look like a promising, albeit shaky, sweetheart deal, as Trump enthusiastically tweeted, “Very exciting!” and boasted that Kim had “agreed to allow nuclear inspections, subject to final negotiations.”
Yet the rest of the world is not feeling the love.
Progress or Posturing?
As American and world politics have become increasingly dependent on optics over facts, within moments of the Kim-Moon summit statement, analysts, diplomats, and reporters speculated that the agreement was not as promising as promoted.
Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) declared he was receptive to further discussions but then accused Kim of additional “deceive and delay” tactics.
Referencing renewed talks for a Trump-Kim summit after Secretary of State Pompeo canceled a diplomatic trip to Pyongyang, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) groused that North Korea had not done anything to be credible in denuclearizing the region and that he felt any future summits risked tainting and “undermining” the current U.S. imposed sanctions.
Mintaro Oba, a former diplomat from the ineffective-in-all-things-Korea Obama administration, seemed more positive than Graham and Markey:
“I can see two levels of U.S. response to the inter-Korean initiatives Kim Jong Un and Moon have announced tonight. Many U.S. officials will be skeptical, if not downright hostile to them. But President Trump may see this as a positive outgrowth of his own summit w/Kim.”
There is a history of the U.S. sabotaging its own peace deals and then pointing the finger at North Korea – a long list of past promises made but not kept.
But President Trump is not the kind of leader to follow in those footsteps.
Decades of Tension
North and South Korea have maintained a chilly relationship, considering the nastiness that has sprung from the North side. Basically, South Koreans ignore the threats of having their nation turned into a “sea of fire.” But it’s a false sense of security: Approximately 25 million people live in Seoul, which is easily in reach of North Korea’s military.
It was that rhetoric that caused a world-wide panic in 1994 and a mildly dramatic response when reemployed in 2011, as South Korea staged military exercises near Yeonpyeong Island, marking the one-year anniversary of North Korea’s deadly shelling that killed two marines and two civilians.
What, exactly, does the United States have that could be included in a reciprocal agreement that has Kim holding out on complete denuclearization? Chung Eui-yong, South Korea’s national security adviser, hinted that an end-of-war declaration from the U.S. may be the winning incentive.
The United States and South Korea signed an armistice agreement with North Korea in 1953 – and that isn’t close to what an end of war declaration will mean for North Korea. Kim’s regime technically remains at war, which means the United States’ led United Nations forces are also still at war with North Korea.
And that’s not a delineation that Kim wants tainting his rule.
Peace in the Korean peninsula has been not much more than a pipe dream for decades. No American administration has made more progress than President Trump’s, despite the fact that threatening rhetoric from Kim Jong Un derailed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit. It was a posturing for the ages, complete with a hand delivered threat to the Trump administration.
What makes current talks optimistic is the relationship that has been built between North and South Korea, creating an exceptional U.S. ally with Moon Jae-in.
But Trump’s enthusiasm after a contentious few days of hostile exchange of letters and Tweets may be the mantle that all involved should adjust to and wear proudly — there is a movement toward peace with the latest inter-Korea summit results.
Or as Trump told reporters, suggesting that anything is possible with ongoing diplomatic relations, “He’s calm, I’m calm – so we’ll see what happens.”
The world is watching, Mr. President.