Views Trump cel­e­brates, but ques­tions per­sist

The Myanmar Times - - News - KAREN DEYOUNG DAVID NAKA­MURA

AN ebul­lient Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump flew home Tues­day with what he called a “very, very com­pre­hen­sive” agree­ment with North Korea, even as law­mak­ers, an­a­lysts and al­lies con­grat­u­lated the ef­fort but ques­tioned the sub­stance of what had been achieved.

The brief doc­u­ment signed by Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pro­vided vir­tu­ally no de­tail beyond a stated commitment to “de­nu­cle­arise” the Korean Penin­sula, a prom­ise that Py­ongyang has made and ig­nored many times in the past.

At a news con­fer­ence in Sin­ga­pore af­ter nearly five hours of talks there with Kim, Trump said he “knows for a fact” that North Korea means it this time and that Kim “wants to do the right thing.” The work of putting meat on the bare bones of the agree­ment will be­gin quickly, he said, and “once you start the process, it means it’s pretty much over.”

Talks are to be led on the US side by Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo and, ac­cord­ing to the agree­ment, a “rel­e­vant, high-level” North Korean of­fi­cial. But no specifics of a fu­ture path were out­lined. There was no men­tion of a dec­la­ra­tion of North Korea’s nu­clear as­sets, which nor­mally pre­cedes any arms con­trol ne­go­ti­a­tion, or of time­lines or dead­lines.

“To me, it was quite dis­ap­point­ing that we re­ally did not put on pa­per any way that would test the se­ri­ous­ness of Kim Jong Un,” said Joseph Yun, who un­til March served as the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive for North Korea pol­icy. “We have to sus­pend our judgment” un­til some­thing else hap­pens, he said, but “there is noth­ing from the meet­ing to say we’ve achieved any­thing.”

No sanc­tions will be lifted un­til denu­cle­ari­sa­tion reaches “a cer­tain point,” Trump said with­out elab­o­ra­tion. “They’ll come off when we know we’re down the road,” he said.

Can­cel­la­tion of ex­er­cises But Trump said at his news con­fer­ence that he would can­cel US-South Korean mil­i­tary ex­er­cises, which he de­scribed as “very provoca­tive” – a de­scrip­tion of­ten used by North Korea. The an­nounce­ment ap­peared to take both Seoul and the Pen­tagon by sur­prise. “Our alliances re­main iron­clad, and en­sure peace and sta­bil­ity in the re­gion,” Pen­tagon spokes­woman Dana White said in a state­ment hours later. The sum­mit, she said, was the “first step along the path to the goal” of denu­cle­ari­sa­tion and peace on the penin­sula.

South Korea said it was study­ing the pres­i­dent’s re­marks from the news con­fer­ence. One of the two an­nual large-scale ex­er­cises be­tween the two took place this spring; the next is sched­uled for Au­gust.

North Korea’s tightly con­trolled media hailed the “meet­ing of the cen­tury,” as the of­fi­cial state news­pa­per, Rodong Shin­mun, put it, but framed the cov­er­age around the premise that it was Trump who was most eager for the sum­mit. The North’s of­fi­cial KCNA news agency char­ac­terised Trump as con­ced­ing to Kim’s de­mands to sus­pend US-South Korea mil­i­tary ex­er­cises.

Rodong Shin­mun de­scribed the sum­mit ac­cord on denu­cle­ari­sa­tion as a “step-by-step” process with re­cip­ro­cal moves by the United States. The ac­count ap­peared to be at odds with re­marks by US of­fi­cials that no ma­jor con­ces­sions can oc­cur be­fore the North makes sig­nif­i­cant progress on dis­man­tling its nu­clear pro­gramme.

There was some dis­cus­sion of hu­man rights dur­ing the meet­ings – which in­cluded a one-on-one be­tween Trump and Kim, an ex­panded ses­sion with se­nior staff on both sides, and a lunch – Trump said, but they fo­cused pri­mar­ily on nu­clear is­sues. Nei­ther North Korea’s bru­tal treat­ment of its own cit­i­zens, nor its sub­stan­tial cy­ber­war ca­pa­bil­i­ties, nor Ja­pan’s re­quest for a tough line on the ab­duc­tion of its cit­i­zens, was men­tioned in their joint state­ment.

Trump did se­cure Kim’s prom­ise, stated in the writ­ten agree­ment, to restart the re­turn of US mil­i­tary re­mains from the Korean War. That process, be­gun in the 1990s, was sus­pended in 2005 as ten­sions rose be­tween the two coun­tries.

‘A very spe­cial bond’ Un­like decades of pre­vi­ous arms agree­ments, which usu­ally start with bot­tom-up ne­go­ti­a­tions and fi­nal deals sealed by lead­ers, this one be­gan at the top. Trump made clear that his pres­ence, and his self-de­scribed deal­mak­ing skills – along with a slick, US-made video de­pict­ing Trump and Kim as key to sav­ing the world – were part of the ne­go­ti­a­tion it­self. By form­ing what he called “a very spe­cial bond” with Kim, he said, he would be able to achieve a suc­cess that had eluded sev­eral pres­i­dents be­fore him.

From the out­side, against the spec­tac­u­lar trop­i­cal back­ground of the Sin­ga­pore city-state, all was bon­homie and pre­set photo op­por­tu­ni­ties show­ing the 71-year-old US pres­i­dent, and the 34-year-old leader of the world’s most iso­lated and re­pres­sive na­tion, smil­ing and chat­ting.

Some ex­perts ques­tioned, how­ever, what hap­pened dur­ing the talks them­selves, and whether fail­ure to reach agree­ment on vi­tal is­sues dur­ing pre-sum­mit talks led by Pom­peo left the pres­i­dent with lit­tle lever­age to press Kim.

“My sense is that we wanted a lot more go­ing into this meet­ing in terms of speci­ficity,” in­clud­ing a dec­la­ra­tion of nu­clear as­sets and “some ref­er­ence to a time­line,” said Vic­tor Cha, di­rec­tor for Asian af­fairs at the Cen­ter for Strategic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. “We got none of those things. If the bar for suc­cess in this sum­mit is war or peace, it’s a pretty low bar. We got peace. So in that sense, we’re cer­tainly in a bet­ter place than we were six months ago, when there was a lot of talk about preven­tive mil­i­tary attacks and armed con­flict.”

But while the agree­ment refers to “a last­ing and sta­ble peace regime,” it does not men­tion a pos­si­ble of­fi­cial end to the Korean War or nor­mal­i­sa­tion of re­la­tions.

Law­mak­ers were largely di­vided along party lines, with Democrats say­ing they were all for peace but that Trump may have got­ten snook­ered.

“Thus far, North Korea has al­ready ex­tracted con­ces­sions,” Sen. Robert Me­nen­dez, Demo­crat from New Jersey, said in a state­ment, in­clud­ing Kim’s “long-sought le­git­i­macy and ac­cep­tance on the global stage.” But Trump, he said, had “un­der­mined our max­i­mum pres­sure pol­icy and sanc­tions. No sooner was the ink dry on the agree­ment than China stated that ‘ad­just­ments’ were needed to the sanc­tions.” Nukes changed equation Re­pub­li­cans were gen­er­ally con­grat­u­la­tory, while re­mind­ing Trump that Congress must be kept ap­prised of what the ad­min­is­tra­tion is do­ing and of his prom­ise to sub­mit any fi­nal deal for ap­proval.

Sen. Tom Cot­ton, Repub­li­can from Ar­kan­sas, com­pared the sum­mit to past pres­i­dents sitting down with the Soviet Union. While there was “some va­lid­ity” to the thought that a US pres­i­dent should not sit down with “two-bit dic­ta­tors,” he said, North Korea’s possession of nu­clear weapons had changed the equation.

“It’s not some­thing we should cel­e­brate,” Cot­ton said of the Kim meet­ing. “It’s not a pretty sight . ... But it’s a nec­es­sary part of the job.”

In terms of what must come next to demon­strate Py­ongyang’s se­ri­ous­ness, “the real test will be when Pom­peo has to fol­low up on all this,” said Michael Green, who served as Asia di­rec­tor for Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil dur­ing the last ex­ten­sive round of North Korea talks.

“If you’re go­ing to de­nu­cle­arise, it’s kind of like Al­co­holics Anony­mous. You have to make a con­fes­sion,” Green said. “’My name is Kim Jong Un. I have nu­clear weapons, and this is what I have.’ Then you hag­gle over in­spec­tions and tim­ing.”

That would in­clude “a dec­la­ra­tion of all their nu­clear sites and fis­sile ma­te­rial, in­clud­ing en­riched ura­nium,” Yun agreed. With­out it, he said, “what do you ne­go­ti­ate?”

“If we get that re­sult very quickly,” he said, “then I think there is some­thing go­ing on. If that drags on, they have bought time, and got­ten their le­git­i­macy and re­spect – what they aimed for at this sum­mit.”

Dec­la­ra­tion of nu­clear ac­tiv­ity would also have to in­clude suspension of “all nu­clear ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing plu­to­nium re­pro­cess­ing, ura­nium en­rich­ment and mis­sile pro­duc­tion,” said Frank Aum, se­nior North Korea ex­pert at the United States In­sti­tute of Peace.

Ver­i­fi­ca­tion and mon­i­tor­ing of denu­cle­ari­sa­tion can be done by the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency – the same in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tion whose cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of Ira­nian com­pli­ance with that nu­clear deal was ques­tioned by Trump. How­ever, “the IAEA does not touch nu­clear weapons,” Green said.

Process could take years Dis­man­tling and de­stroy­ing North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gramme would prob­a­bly be done by Py­ongyang it­self, su­per­vised and as­sisted by a consortium of mil­i­tary ex­perts from the United States and other nu­clear pow­ers. Once weapons and fis­sile ma­te­rial [are] shipped out of the coun­try – most likely to China or Rus­sia – “they chop up and de­stroy the cen­trifuges,” Green said.

The process would prob­a­bly take years, ex­perts es­ti­mate, not in­clud­ing iden­ti­fy­ing, find­ing and de­stroy­ing what are es­ti­mated to be North Korea’s mas­sive stocks of bi­o­log­i­cal and chem­i­cal weapons. “Ja­pan, for ex­am­ple, had chem­i­cal weapons in China dur­ing World War II,” Green said. “They’re still clean­ing them up.”

Be­fore any of this hap­pens, how­ever, Pom­peo must as­sem­ble a team of ex­perts. “He’s got some of those, but I don’t see the nu­clear physi­cists, the weapons ex­perts that you re­ally need to do this kind of ne­go­ti­a­tion and not have the wool pulled over your eyes,” said Wendy Sher­man, the former un­der­sec­re­tary of state who led the US ne­go­ti­at­ing team with Iran.

At the same time, Sher­man said, “there is no durable agree­ment with­out al­liance part­ners” and re­gional and global pow­ers such as China and Rus­sia. And, she said, “they’d bet­ter start now in build­ing sup­port in a bi­par­ti­san man­ner with Congress.”

“I sup­ported this meet­ing be­cause ...it’s clearly the way Pres­i­dent Trump likes to do busi­ness,” and be­cause mono­lithic lead­er­ship is “Kim’s cul­ture – he’s killed enough peo­ple to show he’s in charge.”

“I ap­pre­ci­ate that, and I grant that,” Sher­man said. “But you still have to have a frame­work from lead­ers so negotiators have clar­ity. And this is not a ful­some frame­work.”

– The Wash­ing­ton Post

Photo: AP

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, right, and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un move to shake hands in Sin­ga­pore on Tues­day.

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