June 12, 2018
A First Historic Step… But to Where?
By Barry Pavel
Productive results included:
- A high-level working relationship between US President Donald J. Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was established, and there were no dramatic disruptions or problems that could have led to an immediate crisis.
- The agreed statement includes language on the key issues that the parties will now begin to work out in detail in the weeks and months ahead, including normalization of relations, a process leading to a peace treaty, and denuclearization.
- Stringent economic sanctions remain in place until North Korea takes clear, specific steps toward denuclearization.
- The issues of Japanese abductees and human rights were reportedly raised in the discussions.
- Trump’s announced cancellation of US-ROK military exercises, which he termed “provocative,” could lead to the end of the US-ROK alliance. If military forces do not exercise, they cannot accomplish their primary mission, which currently is to defend the Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea) from the threat of a North Korean military attack. China and North Korea have been pursuing the removal of US forces from South Korea for decades; more recently, last year China, Russia, and North Korea had proposed a “freeze for freeze” (freezing North Korean nuclear and missile testing in exchange for no more US-ROK military exercises), a proposal that the Trump administration had rejected outright. Now, Trump has apparently changed his mind. Fortunately, this measure was not incorporated into the joint statement.
- There was no further elucidation, or even a basic definition, of “denuclearization.” Most observers expected much more on this major issue, which will have to be addressed on a priority basis in the coming days.
- There were no further details on any of the other major issues that need to be negotiated —for example, the steps toward a peace treaty, next steps on normalization of US-North Korea relations, etc.
- Kim achieved an enormous propaganda victory, being seen on the world stage with the president of the United States, with the flags of the two nations intertwined on camera. He gave up little in exchange for this major accomplishment.
- There was no language in the agreed statement on Japanese abductees or human rights. Even without the two nations agreeing to new provisions on these issues, basic diplomatic work would have suggested the following type of language could have been included:
- “The two leaders discussed the issues of Japanese abductees and human rights in North Korea. They agreed to continue diplomatic exchanges about these matters.”
- Disarmament of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles
- Disabling of nuclear-related infrastructure
- Dismantlement of facilities so that they cannot be rebuilt
- Long-term verification.
Barry Pavel is senior vice president, Arnold Kanter chair, and director of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. Follow him on Twitter @BarryPavel.