Peninsula progress will take more than another meeting
For much of last year, both United States President Donald Trump and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea leader Kim Jong-un were very enthusiastic about their interaction. Until they started bickering about whose turn it was to make the next move and the peninsula denuclearization process stalled, with the two sides pointing fingers at each other’s gamesmanship.
But while speculation is rife that this means the peace process is on its last legs, both Trump and Kim apparently feel that there is still life in it.
Everybody seems to have noticed Kim’s threat “to explore a new path” should the US pursue “sanctions and pressure without keeping a promise it made in front of the world,” in his New Year address. And to be wondering what that “new path” might be.
But Kim also declared denuclearization was his “firm will”, and his country “would neither make and test nuclear weapons any longer nor use and proliferate them”.
For anyone concerned about Pyongyang being the source of a nuclear threat, that should be a consoling message. Plus, Kim again displayed willingness to continue engaging with Washington over the future of the Korean Peninsula.
On the other side of the Pacific in Washington, the US president announced receiving a “great” letter from Kim, along with the probability of them meeting again.
“He’d like to meet, I’d like to meet”, Trump said. “We’ll set that up, we’ll be setting that up in the not-too-distant future”.
Although Trump stated he was in no hurry, unless the current momentum is badly disrupted, another US-DPRK summit meeting would likely sustain what Trump has said is his “very good relationship with North Korea”, which is critical to his claim to have made progress in removing a nuclear threat.
It would also serve Pyongyang’s needs for peace, economic development and closer cooperation with Seoul. There would be no guarantee of peace if the DPRK returns to a tense standoff with the US, while constructive engagement on denuclearization might be rewarded with precious US assistance in its pursuit of economic progress.
So it would be no surprise if another Trump-Kim summit occurs sooner rather than later.
However, things cannot really proceed far with key US demands remaining unmet and with the sanctions on the DPRK still in place, and since neither side seems willing to be the one to make the required move first, it would be naive to believe another meeting will make a substantial difference, unless somebody comes up with something new.
Both sides should heed the other’s rational concerns if the positive momentum is to be maintained this year.