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Trump-Kim parleys  

Huzaima Bukhari

“Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed”—Mao Zedong

President Donald Trump, in his 82-minute-long long State of the Union speech on February 6, expressed positive outcome of the second summit between him and North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, scheduled in Vietnam on February 27-28, 2019. He said that “much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong-un is a good one”. Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim’s meeting last June in Singapore was the first ever between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader. Though Pyongyang has not conducted any atomic or ballistic missile tests since last summer, dismantling its nuclear weapons programme is yet to be agreed upon. Since the first summit, efforts have been underway to plan the second one for which the US envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun was in Pyongyang for extensive talks and these ultimately paved the way for the second leadership summit as confirmed by President Trump.

Mr. Biegun, in a meeting held on February 4, 2019, with South Korea’s National Security Adviser, Chung Eui-yong, discussed at length the planned second summit. Many experts believe that second Trump-Kim summit may at last bring a much-desired deal—North Korea agrees to the destruction of its main Yongbyon nuclear complex in return for a promise from the USA to formally declare the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, open a liaison office in Pyongyang and allow the North to resume some lucrative economic projects with South Korea.

There is no denying the fact that in the aftermath of the Second World War in 1945, despite achieving peace, a lot of political fragmentation left the world in a state of perpetual crises and the onset of the infamous cold war between United States of America (USA) and the erstwhile Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Besides giving rise to innumerable regional conflicts two major blocks emerged, one siding with USA and the other with USSR and this is exactly what happened to the Korean Peninsula. It was not only broken into two separate countries but also got divided in affiliation, with the South leaning towards USA and the North opting to befriend the USSR. With the break-out of war (1950-1953) both Koreas had to suffer horrendous bloodshed which resulted in some interesting developments. One, USA proved its mettle against USSR. Two, this was the only time that China, supporting its North Korean ally came into direct combat with American troops according to a Korean history professor at Columbia University, Charles K. Armstrong: “There was a lot of field contact between American and Chinese forces,” and three, as per Professor Armstrong, “It was from the Korean War onward that we had a permanent, global American military presence that we had never had before,”

Since then, while South Korea became an economic giant, North Korea turned into a ferocious garrison state, home to the fourth largest army with its generals in a perpetual state of war. In its frenzy to achieve military superiority, North Korea began developing nuclear arms alongside improving missile technology. With Soviet aid the country enjoyed economic growth that started witnessing a decline from 1987 reaching its peak in 1991 due to complete stoppage of aid because of the dissolution of USSR. This new turn of events forced the Communist government to reconsider its foreign relations and also revisit its nuclear programme, an eyesore for the world in general and USA in particular.

The Agreed Framework negotiated in 1994 with US President Bill Clinton, in which North Korea promised to put an end to development of nuclear arms proved to be short-lived as it was rejected by George W Bush when he attained power in 2001, restoring pursuit of nuclear arms.

Now, ironically one Republican president’s undoing is in the process of further undoing by another of the same party, viz. President Donald Trump when in June 2018, he met Kim Jong-un in Singapore for talks. Although this historic meeting failed to be conclusive, it succeeded in locking in another summit and has motivated Pyongyang to desist from testing its nuclear capability but not without Pyongyang secured suspension of the upcoming US-South Korea military drill. In their hope to striking a better bargain with USA, North Koreans have opted to deal directly with Trump who they believe is different from previous presidents, and would probably deviate from following the stereo-type USA policy towards them.

In his New Year’s speech, Kim urged more cooperation between the Koreas and said the North is ready to reopen the factory park and resume joint tours to the resort.
Last year, North Korea released American detainees, suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests and dismantled a nuclear test site and parts of a rocket launch facility without the presence of outside experts.

It has repeatedly demanded that the United States reciprocate with measures such as sanctions relief, but Washington has called for North Korea to take steps such as providing a detailed account of its nuclear and missile facilities that would be inspected and dismantled under a potential deal. Satellite video taken since the June summit has indicated North Korea is continuing to produce nuclear materials at its weapons factories. US intelligence chiefs told Congress last Tuesday that they believe there is little likelihood Kim will voluntarily give up his nuclear weapons or missiles capable of carrying them.

In her analysis, Seoul correspondent of BBC News, Laura Bicker, opined: “Trump’s goal will be to extract pledges from Kim Jong-un without giving too much ground”. Trump administration, she said, was not willing to lift sanctions, but did mention helping out the North’s economy. She is of the view that unless President Trump extracts a written pledge from Kim, the second summit “will be seen as all show, and very little substance”


The chances of success of forthcoming parleys between Washington and Pyongyang appear bright as South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, who held three summits with Kim last year and helped set up the first Trump-Kim meeting, has described inter-Korean reconciliation as crucial for resolving the nuclear standoff. The USA is helping to achieve this goal for which the forthcoming summit can play a decisive role.

So far, the Koreas have discussed ambitious plans, such as reconnecting railways and roads across their border, resuming operations at a jointly run factory park in a North Korean border town and restarting South Korean tours to the North’s Diamond Mountain resort. But nothing is possible unless the sanctions are eased, which Washington says will not happen unless North Korea takes sterner steps toward irreversibly and verifiably relinquishing its nuclear weapons. This makes the second scheduled summit highly important. Time will tell whether Kim fulfils his promise or standoff continues on dismantling all nuclear capabilities to move towards global peace.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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