Okay, they met. Many people doubted it would occur, but it did. So, how did the historic meeting go? What happened? What will happen prospectively?
By all accounts, the meeting was cordial; Messrs. Trump and Kim got along well (Mr. Trump was effusive in his praise for Kim, and said he felt a “very special bond”); and they laid the groundwork for more open diplomatic relations prospectively.
So, now what? Do the US and NOKO build on this summit or do they revert to the same old hostility, name calling, and mistrust that has characterized their relationship for the past 65 years? Will this be the beginning of meaningful progress or just another in a long list of disappointments? I hate to say it, but I think the answer is “we’ll see what happens.”
So, what, in my opinion, did each side achieve?
- The joint communique was full of “diplomatic-speak,” long on generalities and short on specifics.
- One thing, however, was very clear. Just by meeting one-on-one with the President of the US as equals, Kim, the head of a pariah nation presently under sanctions by both the US and UN, raised his and his country’s international status significantly. Furthermore, Mr. Trump doubled down by stating he would “absolutely” invite Kim to the White House prospectively.
- Clearly, the most controversial item was Mr. Trump’s announcement that the US would unilaterally cease joint military “war games” with SOKO, which he characterized as “very provocative and expensive.” This had been one of NOKO’s chief goals, and it is not clear what, if anything, Mr. Trump got in return. More on this later.
- NOKO did not provide a firm, irrefutable commitment to denuclearize. This had been one of the US’s chief goals of the summit. The joint statement mentions they will “work toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” without providing specifics as to how and when, although Mr. Trump later told various reporters and media outlets, including Reuters and Fox News, Kim had “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” and he expected the process to commence “very, very quickly.”
- The question of inspection and verification was not resolved. The US wants/needs to have independent inspection and verification; NOKO is reluctant. Without it, any agreement to denuclearize would be meaningless.
- Both parties agreed to identify and recover the remains of POWs and soldiers MIA from the Korean conflict, so their families could get some closure.
- There was no mention of human rights in the joint communique to the dismay of many, such as Paul Ryan, who has labeled NOKO “a brutal regime.”
- There was no mention of a formal end to the Korean conflict, another high priority of many.
- The sanctions will remain for the time being.
According to Reuters and other media outlets, Mr. Trump’s unilateral commitment to cease joint military exercises with SOKO caught everyone by surprise – Republicans, Democrats, allies, and news analysts. Critics, mostly on the “left,” are claiming that he gave up a significant bargaining chip for not much in return.
A sampling of responses published in Reuters:
- SOKO President Moon was measured and diplomatic, but it was obvious he was taken aback: [We have to] “find out the precise meaning or intentions” of Mr. Trump’s announcement, but we are “willing to explore various measures to help the talks move forward more smoothly.”
- Chuck Schumer bluntly criticized Mr. Trump for giving up “substantial leverage” with not enough in return.
- Senator Bob Corker, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was more cautious, saying at the present time “it was difficult to assess what had happened at the summit.”
- Meanwhile, US spokesperson for forces stations in SOKO, Lt. Colonel Jennifer Lovett offered: “USFK has received no updated guidance on execution or cessation of training exercises.”
- As I stated above, the president did qualify the comments somewhat, telling Reuters that the cessation would last “unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should.” Later, in a one-on-one interview with Sean Hannity, Fox News, Mr. Trump was more specific, stating that the cessation was contingent on Kim’s negotiating in “good faith” and proceeding with the dismantling of his country’s nuclear capabilities. If those conditions are not met, the military exercises could always resume. Again, carrot and stick.
- Meanwhile, CBS News correspondent Ed O’Keefe denoted that the military exercises are also important because they send a message to China that we are firmly committed to the region. I would agree.
- Predictably many commentators on the “left,” were particularly harsh, vindictive and “nit picky.” It was almost like they were hoping for the negotiations to fail even if such a result would hurt the country (and the world) just so Mr. Trump could not have a “win.” Nicolle Wallace (on the Rachel Maddow show) said “we won’t ever know what happened in the meeting since both men are established liars.” Chris Matthews characterized Mr. Trump as a “wannabe despot.” Finally, David Linker opined that “even a successful summit would be bad because it would improve [Mr.] Trump’s approval ratings.”
On the plus side, the summit actually took place. Many had their doubts. Messrs. Trump and Kim talked, appeared to come away with a mutual respect for each other, and established a basis for further talks.
Realistically, no one should have expected all the issues to be resolved in one meeting. Negotiations such as this are always a process. First, it is necessary to lay the foundation. Then, as time goes on, more substantive matters are discussed and, hopefully, resolved. Some readers will remember the “shuttle diplomacy” from the 1960s and 1970s. Dr. Kissinger shuttled back and forth countless times between Israel and the Arab states in a vain attempt to forge a peace settlement.
On the negative side, Mr. Trump gave Kim a very big carrot when he unilaterally agreed to halt training exercises. His critics, which are legion, will roast him for that. However, like I said the carrot can be removed, and the stick applied, and Kim knows it.
Let’s hope that there are future talks and they are fruitful. As long as we are talking, we are not fighting, which I think everyone can agree is a positive thing.
The whole world is watching. SOKO, Japan and our other allies want verification that we “have their back.” Our enemies and rivals, such as China, Russia and Iran will be evaluating the situation as an indication of how Mr. Trump will be dealing with them prospectively.
In order to evaluate the summit properly and fairly I think it is necessary to consider a little historical perspective. To paraphrase media reporter Joe Concha (The Hill), think of where we were just ten months ago:
- It seemed as if we were on the verge of a nuclear confrontation with NOKO.
- Both Guam and parts of the US mainland were under a threat of attack.
- NOKO missiles were flying over Japan.
- Mr. Trump and Kim were trading insults and threats.
And, look where we are now.
Finally, Mr. Trump has wisely determined that any agreement be ratified by Congress. Securing Congressional approval may be risky, but it would give any deal the force of law and prevent a future president from negating it by executive order. Note the contrast between this transparency and inclusiveness with how President Obama handled the Iran nuke deal.