by Ralph Scharnau
President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are scheduled to meet in Singapore on June 12. The paramount issue will be nuclear weapons.
US-North Korean relations have been marked by conflict and distrust: the Korean Warand a divided peninsula; a cold war interspersed with violent incidents; no formal diplomatic relations; and numerous unsuccessful attempts at talks and agreements to halt North Korean weapons programs. This amounts to a roller coaster game of brinkmanship. There have been talks about talks with two unpredictable world leaders trading threats and blandishments.
After a year of breakthrough missile launches and a sixth nuclear test, Mr. Kim abruptly
put his country on a path toward talks with Mr. Trump. In the weeks leading up to the proposed summit, Mr. Kim has taken very public steps to lay the groundwork for negotiations, including releasing three American prisoners, suspending weapons tests, and demolishing his country’s only nuclear test site.
North Korea now has as many as 60 nuclear weapons, seen as the best guarantee of
survival despite decades of negotiations, international sanctions and threats of war. The words “nuclear state” are even enshrined in its constitution. North Korea’s new interest in negotiating with the Trump administration comes down to security and trade. Over the past few years, the United States, the United Nations, China, and others have imposed economic sanctions as a tool to reign in the North’s expanding nuclear program.
Kim now believes that his country has standing as a nuclear nation. He sees this, in turn,
as a negotiating strategy to lift the punishing economic sanctions imposed by the United States and the United Nations.
The Trump administration’s earlier North Korean policy relied on aggressive military
posturing as a form of containment. These included staging military exercises, increasing troop levels, and threatening annihilation in the event of warfare. Just days after accepting Kim’s early March invitation to meet, President Trump pulled out of the highly anticipated summit even though he said that talks might simply be postponed.
That the door to the talks remains open came with North Korea calling for Trump to reconsider as well as support for talks from South Korea and the UN. South Korean President Moon Jae-in plays a role too. Moon and Kim have cooperated in the recent Olympics, opened more opportunities for family visits, connected the two nations
with a hot-line, and explored the signing of an official peace treaty.
Actually, both the United States and North Korea have threatened to cancel the talks. It
seems likely now though that they will occur. It will be interesting to see how Trump responds since he lacks a basic understanding of nuclear technology and diplomacy procedures. While he regards himself as the ultimate deal maker, he has no experience in diplomatic statecraft.