US President Donald Trump has agreed to a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The meeting is likely to take place in May 2018 and has taken the international community by surprise.
The relationship between the US and North Korea has always been fractious. During the war between North and South Korea in 1950, US forces successfully intervened on behalf of South Korea. To this day, there are 28,500 American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in South Korea as part of United States Forces Korea (USFK).
The North Korean nuclear program has been a source of concern for the US and the international community for decades. North Korea has remained an isolated nation and its nuclear program has especially been a concern for the international community. In 2017, North Korea has launched 23 missiles in the course of 16 tests. In November 2017, North Korea after seemingly two months of silence, tested its most potent missile yet. The Hwasong-15 missile reached an unprecedented height of almost 4,500 kilometers (2,800 miles). The Hwasong-15 is a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile. This represents a serious escalation in the stability of the Korean peninsula.
Trump has taken an aggressive stance while countering North Korea. In 2017, he said that North Korea “will be met with fire and the fury like the world has never seen.” North Korea responded by announcing that plans were underway for it to strike Guam, a US territory. Both Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump were locked in an extended war of words in 2017, with both threatening war.
In March 2018, a South Korean delegation headed to North Korea to partake in historic talks to ease the tensions that have built up in the Korean peninsula. Experts believe that this will pave the way for US talks. Chung Eui-yong, the head of the presidential national security office is heading the South Korean delegation, a team of 10 members.
Chung Eui-yong had a successful interaction with North Korean authorities including Kim Jong Un and went to the US to brief Washington. He also presented President Trump with a personal invitation from Kim Jong Un requesting a meeting. After months of escalated tensions, the international community was taken by surprise when it was announced that President Trump would be meeting Kim Jong Un sometime in May 2018.
"The deal with North Korea is very much in the making and will be, if completed, a very good one for the world," Mr. Trump tweeted late on Friday. "Time and place to be determined.”
The US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson said on Friday that Trump had taken the decision to hold talks after the US was surprised at how “forward-leaning” Kim was in his conversations with a visiting South Korean delegation. “President Trump has said for some time that he was open to talks and he would willingly meet with Kim when conditions were right. And I think in the president’s judgment, that time has arrived now,” he said.
The Republic of Korea National Security Advisor Chung Eui-Yong in a prepared set of remarks noted, “The Republic of Korea, the United States, and our partners stand together in insisting that we not repeat the mistakes of the past, and that the pressure will continue until North Korea matches its words with concrete actions.”
South Korea's President Moon Jae-in said the news "came like a miracle". "If President Trump and Chairman Kim meet following an inter-Korean summit, complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula will be put on the right track in earnest," he said.
If the meeting takes place as announced, Trump would become the first sitting US president to meet with a North Korean head of state. “North Korea has been seeking a summit with an American president for more than twenty years,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at Middlebury Institute of International studies tweeted Thursday night. “It has literally been a top foreign policy goal of Pyongyang since Kim Jong Il invited Bill Clinton.”
The US is still technically at war with North Korea as only an armistice was signed during the Korean War and not a peace agreement. In the past, President Bill Clinton was eager to end the diplomatic standoff between the countries and sent Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for a meeting in 2000. Albright would later recount, “I held two days of intensive talks, during which [Kim Jong Il] appeared willing to accept more significant restraints on the missile programs than we had expected.” But she continued, “Obviously, if this dilemma were easy to resolve, it would have been settled long ago. The fundamental problem is that the North Korean leadership is convinced it requires nuclear weapons to guarantee its own survival.”
Our assessment is that North Korea has the most to gain from a meeting with a sitting US President as it would lend the isolated state actual legitimacy. A successful meeting could also pave the way to lift UN imposed sanctions. However, experts remain deeply skeptical that North Korea would truly be willing to give up its nuclear programme. If the meeting takes place and North Korea continues developing and testing nuclear weapons, that would result in foreign policy failure on the part of the US.
Read more: North Korea moving towards truce?