US President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, paid a secret visit to Pyongyang over the Easter weekend to hammer out details of a planned summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
It is said that after he returned from Pyongyang, Pompeo told his boss that it is definitely worthwhile to meet with Kim, suggesting that the possibility of their summit being canceled is pretty remote. The meeting could take place in late May or June this year.
Meanwhile, Kim is set to meet with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in next Friday at Panmunjom. Kim will go down in history as the first-ever North Korean leader to cross the 38th parallel.
According to Chung Eui-yong, President Moon’s special envoy and director of the National Security Office of South Korea, Seoul may seek to sign a peace treaty with Pyongyang, thus putting an official end to the Korean War, if the latter agrees to give up its nuclear program.
Technically, the two Koreas are still in a state of war because what was signed on July 27, 1953, which ended open hostilities between the two sides, was an armistice, not a formal peace treaty.
Based on recent developments, we believe Kim would refrain from taking a tough stance or trying to drive a hard bargain at the meeting with President Moon next Friday in order not to jeopardize his chance of meeting with President Trump after that.
Although the Trump-Kim summit is not a done deal yet, Pompeo’s trip to North Korea was already phenomenal in its own right, and has marked a historic breakthrough in US-North Korea relations.
It has been 18 years since a senior US official last visited Pyongyang. Back in 2000, North Korea’s Kim Jong-il invited the then US President Bill Clinton to pay a visit to his country.
Clinton declined and instead sent his secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, to Pyongyang as his special envoy.
At the meeting, Albright offered to provide oil and help North Korea to build two nuclear reactors for electricity generation in exchange for Pyongyang’s agreement to stop constructing reactors for producing weapons-grade nuclear materials.
Unfortunately, the talks between Kim and Albright failed, and her trip to Pyongyang eventually proved futile. As a result, North Korea continued to press ahead with its nuclear arms program, while the US didn’t provide any oil.
Now, let’s say the Trump-Kim summit does materialize as planned. The question is, will the meeting deliver tangible results?
Will the United States be able to talk the North Korean leader into giving up his nuclear weapons? We have serious doubts about that.
First, the Kim regime is notorious for pulling the trick of using talks to buy time.
Second, we believe it would be very difficult for Washington and Pyongyang to agree on the exact definition of the North “giving up its nuclear program” since weapons-grade nuclear materials can also be used for peaceful purposes such as generating electricity.
Besides, both the US and Japan have stressed that North Korea should not expect any reward until it takes “irreversible” steps to give up its nuclear weapons. The problem is, what is exactly meant by “irreversible”?
Trump and Kim, once they meet, are likely to argue fiercely over the definition of “taking irreversible steps to give up nuclear weapons”. We are not very optimistic about the chances of them being able to settle this major bone of contention at the negotiation table.
As such, one shouldn’t expect too much from the upcoming summit since there are too many variables regarding its outcome.
Still, we believe Trump’s willingness to meet with Kim is a good thing for the entire world. While their talks may not bear fruit, at least the two sides have opened their doors for dialogue, which is a prerequisite for the peaceful resolution of the North Korea nuclear crisis.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 19
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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