A trilateral North Korea summit?

A trilateral North Korea summit?
South Korean officials have told journalists that a three-way summit between Seoul, Pyongyang, and Washington may be possible. President Trump, who had cancelled..

South Korean officials have told journalists that a three-way summit between Seoul, Pyongyang, and Washington may be possible. President Trump, who had cancelled the meeting between himself and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un last week, has also said that it is possible that the summit will take place as planned on June 12th in Singapore.

Background

The history of North Korea began in 1945, when colonial Japan withdrew from the peninsula and Korea was divided into two halves along the 38th parallel. 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. 28,500 American soldiers are stationed in South Korea as part of United States Forces Korea (USFK). Read more on the history of the peninsula here.

The North Korean nuclear program has been a source of concern for the US and the international community for decades. Talks to curb the program in exchange for relief from sanctions have failed repeatedly. One example is the 1994 US-North Korean Agreed Framework, in which North Korea agreed to halt its nuclear program in return for proliferation-resistant nuclear power. The agreement collapsed in 2002. In 2006, after North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, the UN passed harsh economic sanctions on the region. In 2017, Pyongyang conducted over 20 missile test launches, and conducted its sixth nuclear test. US President Trump has taken an aggressive stance while countering North Korea.  

Since January 2018, Pyongyang appears to have softened its stance, initiating diplomatic meetings. On April 27th, North and South Korean leaders Kim Jong-Un and Moon Jae-In held a historic summit, the first in over a decade. The two nations announced that they had agreed to end the 60-year Korean War and signed the Panmunjom Declaration which agreed to denuclearise North Korea. Read more on the summit here. A meeting was also arranged between the North Korean leader and the US President, the first of its kind.

However, in recent weeks, North Korea has reverted to a more aggressive stance. Pyongyang cancelled a meeting with South Korean officials after joint military drills with Washington. National Security Advisor John Bolton said that the United States was looking at a 2004 “Libya model” to denuclearise North Korea. North Korean vice foreign minister Kim Kye-Gwan responded that Pyongyang would “no longer be interested” in dialogue if the US was trying to push for “unilateral nuclear abandonment.” It threatened a "nuclear-to-nuclear showdown". As a result, US President Trump cancelled the summit, stating that Pyongyang’s “tremendous anger and open hostility” had dissuaded him from meeting Kim. Read more here.

Analysis

US President Donald Trump has confirmed that an American team is currently in North Korea to make arrangements for another summit. The group includes Sung Kim, former North Korean negotiator and ambassador to Seoul. South Korean officials are also reportedly attending the talks. “We are having very productive talks with North Korea about reinstating the Summit which, if it does happen, will likely remain in Singapore on the same date, June 12th., and, if necessary, will be extended beyond that date,” he tweeted, adding later that North Korea had “brilliant potential” and would “be a great economic and financial Nation one day.”

Kim Jong-Un and Moon Jae-In also met on Saturday (26th May), in a surprise meeting. The two leaders reportedly “exchanged opinions... for the successful holding of the North Korea-US summit," and also agreed to “meet frequently.” Moon said that Kim had also reiterated his commitment to “complete” denuclearisation. A Blue House official said that Moon and Kim had discussed a three-way meeting with Washington this June. "The discussions are just getting started, so we are still waiting to see how they come out, but depending on their outcome, the president could join President Trump and Chairman Kim in Singapore," Yonhap quoted the official as saying.

Some analysts believe that Trump’s inconsistency has caused concern in the Blue House. However, South Korean officials have maintained that Seoul and Washington continue to “share detailed information on inter-Korean issues, and ahead of the North Korea-US summit.”

Robert Kelly from Busan National University has noted that rather than demanding unilateral denuclearisation, the Trump administration should lay down concrete demands. Additionally, coming to a final solution could take years, he told Al Jazeera, noting that it would be “extraordinary” if the negotiations "would wrap up in the next three weeks." Analysts have noted that rushing into talks without a strategy could be a mistake, given that both countries may currently have very different ideas of what “denuclearisation” means. For Pyongyang, this could mean mutual denuclearisation of the peninsula. The US, on the other hand, is pushing for North Korea’s "comprehensive, verifiable and irreversible" nuclear disarmament.

Assessment

Our assessment is that President Trump may have cancelled the June 12th summit to create a certain arbitrage in the upcoming talks. As stated previously, we believe that the summit will take place at a later date. We feel that the deliberations may now include Seoul along with Washington and Pyongyang. Moon’s presence at the summit could potentially ease the talks as South Korea has so far acted as an intermediary between the two nations. Nevertheless, if it takes place, the summit will likely be the first of a series of negotiations. North Korea may not want to hand over its most valuable bargaining chips to America.

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