Trump-Kim sum­mit was a high-stakes gam­ble

There is re­lief both in the United States and Eu­rope that the world has pulled back from the precipice

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - Comment - MEERA SHANKAR Meera Shankar is a for­mer Am­bas­sador to the United States of Amer­ica The views ex­pressed are per­sonal

The sum­mit meet­ing be­tween the US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and North Korean leader, Chair­man Kim Jong Un was his­toric in a sense that it was the first ever meet­ing be­tween a sit­ting US Pres­i­dent and a leader of North Korea.

North Korea has for long sought di­rect di­a­logue with the United States but suc­ces­sive US Pres­i­dents have ruled out a sum­mit meet­ing. For Trump, be­lea­guered at home and crit­i­cised for his mal­adroit han­dling of al­lies , in­clud­ing at the just con­cluded G-7 meet­ing, the sum­mit of­fered an op­por­tu­nity to pos­i­tively show­case his lead­er­ship. War was not an op­tion given the ad­vances in North Korea’s nu­clear weapons and mis­sile pro­grammes, the coun­ter­vail­ing power of China, and the con­cerns of South Korea and Ja­pan that their coun­tries could be­come North Korean tar­gets in the event of any con­flict. For Kim, the sum­mit con­ferred le­git­i­macy on the world stage. Af­ter years of in­ter­na­tional iso­la­tion and sanc­tions, he was meet­ing as an equal with the leader of the world’s most pow­er­ful coun­try, and one which had been at the fore­front of ef­forts to iso­late his coun­try. That too with­out a pri­ori sac­ri­fic­ing the ad­vances made by North Korea in de­vel­op­ing nu­clear weapons and mis­siles, in­clud­ing a bal­lis­tic mis­sile with in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal reach.

To cre­ate a favourable en­vi­ron­ment, Kim had an­nounced a sus­pen­sion of nu­clear and mis­sile tests, de­stroyed a nu­clear test site and re­leased a few Amer­i­can pris­on­ers. In his ear­lier sum­mit with South Korean Pres­i­dent, Moon Jae-in, Kim had reaf­firmed com­mit­ment to de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion of the Korean Penin­sula and to achiev­ing peace in the Korean Penin­sula.

The sum­mit was high on photo-op and per­sonal ges­tures but thin on out­come.The joint state­ment is couched in gen­er­al­i­ties. Both lead­ers com­mit­ted to es­tab­lish new US-North Korea re­la­tions and join their ef­forts to build a last­ing and sta­ble peace on the Korean Penin­sula. North Korea com­mit­ted to work to­wards com­plete de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion of the Korean penin­sula.

It is un­clear if both the US and North Korea are on the same page when they talk of de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion of the Korean Penin­sula. Does this re­fer only to the dis­man­tle­ment of North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gramme or would it also en­com­pass the ex­tended nu­clear de­ter­rence that the US pro­vides to South Korea which was orig­i­nally in­tended as an um­brella against China’s nu­clear weapons? China’s ob­jec­tive would be to push for the broad­est def­i­ni­tion, pos­si­bly in­clud­ing the US bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­fence sys­tems, sta­tioned in South Korea. If the US ac­cepts such a broad def­i­ni­tion, it would be an­other sig­nal that it is di­lut­ing its role in Asia hav­ing al­ready with­drawn from the Trans Pa­cific Part­ner­ship. There is no men­tion of North Korea’s mis­sile pro­gramme in the joint state­ment.

In a sub­se­quent press con­fer­ence, Trump said that he was stop­ping US- South Korea joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises which he char­ac­terised as “provoca­tive” and “ex­pen­sive”. He also said that he would like to see US troops leave South Korea.These an­nounce­ments seem to have blind­sided both his South Korean al­lies and even his own mil­i­tary which said that it had re­ceived no new guid­ance. He also said that North Korea had agreed to de­stroy a mis­sile en­gine test site and that sanc­tions against North Korea would con­tinue. There was no for­mal­i­sa­tion of the sus­pen­sion of nu­clear and mis­sile tests an­nounced by North Korea. In­stead an in­for­mal freeze for freeze pro­posal, long prop­a­gated by Rus­sia (sus­pen­sion of US/ South Korea war games in re­turn for sus­pen­sion of North Korean nu­clear and mis­sile tests) has been put in place.

Para­dox­i­cally, Pres­i­dent Trump has shown a flex­i­ble, and even some­what loose, ap­proach in ne­go­ti­at­ing with North Korea on the nu­clear is­sue while at the same time pulling out of the Nu­clear agree­ment with Iran which com­mits Iran to very spe­cific ac­tions that even the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency has cer­ti­fied that Iran has ad­hered to. This makes the US ac­tions against Iran ap­pear in­con­sis­tent and il­log­i­cal. While, there is re­lief both in the US and Eu­rope that the world has pulled back from a precipice, there is also con­sid­er­able scep­ti­cism that Trump’s high stakes diplo­matic gam­ble will achieve the twin ob­jec­tives of an “ir­re­versible and ver­i­fi­able” dis­man­tle­ment of North Korea’s nu­clear weapon and mis­sile pro­grammes and a sta­ble and last­ing peace in the Korean Penin­sula. If, against all odds, the talks do suc­ceed, his­tory would truly have been made.


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