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June 12 North Korea-U.S. Summit

The Korean War broke out in 1950 and the armistice agreement was signed in 1953, with the process of signing the document only taking 11 minutes. And the North Korean nuclear crisis began to erupt in the 1990s. Putting an end to their decades-long confrontation and making a breakthrough in their relations, North Korea and the U.S. started their first summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa Island in Singapore at 9:04 a.m. on June 12, local time. U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appeared, walking along a red carpet from separate sides of the meeting venue, which was lined with U.S. and North Korean flags. The two leaders then greeted each other with a handshake to signal an end to their nations’ hostility that lasted for seven decades. Here’s Oh Gyeong-seop, researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, to explain.

The meeting between Kim and Trump during the photo session was pretty impressive. The two leaders exchanged the historic first handshake against the background of a row of alternating six North Korean flags and six U.S. flags. The scene itself symbolizes an end to the two countries’ 70-year-long hostility. It also raises expectations that bilateral discussions about North Korea’s denuclearization, normalization of their relations and the creation of a peace regime will proceed smoothly in the future.

The two leaders expressed their expectations for a successful summit in their opening remarks. Kim, in particular, admitted the difficulties getting to the summit but said that those obstacles had been overcome.

The past has been holding us back, and the old prejudices and practices have covered our eyes and ears. But we’ve been able to overcome all of them and we are here today.

Kim expressed his hope that the hard-earned summit would produce a good result. As the North Korean leader indicated, the process of realizing the summit was far from easy. Let’s hear from Nam Seong-wook, professor of Korean Unification, Diplomacy and Security at Korea University.

I’d describe the summit as a surprising twist that is seen in a surreal sci-fi movie. North Korea went ahead with its sixth nuclear test on September 3 last year and launched an intercontinental ballistic missile on November 29. Tension between North Korea and the U.S. was rapidly reaching a flashpoint. But during his New Year’s speech on January 1 this year, Kim Jong-un expressed his intention to send a delegation to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics to be held in South Korea. A South Korean delegation of special envoys visited Pyongyang on March 5 to meet Kim Jong-un, and Trump accepted the North Korean leader’s invitation to meet. Trump once called off the meeting, but the on-again, off-again summit eventually took place as planned on June 12.

As Professor Nam explained, relations between North Korea and the U.S. experienced many twists and turns. In a speech before the U.N. General Assembly last September, Trump said that the U.S. could totally destroy North Korea in order to defend the U.S. and its allies. In fact, the war of words between North Korea and the U.S. started even before Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017. After Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test last September, Trump sent a strong warning to the North, using the expression “totally destroy.” North Korea also responded with harsh rhetoric, with conflict between the two countries only heightening. But their relations faced a turning point, following the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February this year. A group of South Korean special envoys visited North Korea on March 5 to provide a clue to a summit between North Korea and the U.S. On March 8, South Korea’s National Security Office chief Chung Eui-yong delivered Kim Jong-un’s hope for a summit with the U.S. to Trump.

Trump’s acceptance of Kim’s offer for a summit was followed by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s secret visit to North Korea at the end of March and the summit between South and North Korea on April 27. Pompeo’s second North Korea visit on May 10 led to the release of three American detainees in the North, and Trump announced that a North Korea-U.S. summit would be held in Singapore on June 12. But an unexpected problem arose, as North Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan mentioned the possibility of reconsidering the planned summit with the U.S., taking issue with the South Korea-U.S. combined military drills. On May 24, Trump said that he would cancel the summit with the North Korean leader. In an apparent bid to save the summit, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un held their second summit on May 26 to reaffirm Pyongyang’s commitment to denuclearization. Later, Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the central committee of North Korea’s Workers’ Party, visited the U.S. And the much-anticipated North Korea-U.S. summit took place as scheduled on June 12.

Trump was sure of success for the summit even before talks began. Trump and Kim started a one-on-one meeting at 9:16 a.m. and an extended summit began at 10 a.m. After the 100-minute extended summit attended by three aides from each side, Trump expressed his satisfaction with the meeting.

After 140 minutes of talks and a 50-minute lunch, the pair took a walk on the hotel grounds, unaccompanied by interpreters. Although it was a brief, 30-meter stroll, the two men apparently felt the connection with each other in regards to North Korea’s denuclearization and a security guarantee. They signed a joint statement at 2:40 p.m., and Kim made the following remarks.

The world will see a major change. I’d like to express my gratitude to President Trump for making this meeting happen.

In the four-point joint statement, Kim agreed on complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula while Trump committed to provide security guarantees to North Korea. The two sides also committed themselves to establishing new bilateral relations and agreed to recover the remains of soldiers taken prisoner or missing during the Korean War, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified. Mr. Oh explains more.

Under the agreement, the U.S. demands North Korea’s complete denuclearization, while the North requests a security guarantee for its regime in return. Basically, Pyongyang demands that the two sides end their hostile relations and establish diplomatic ties so it can push for denuclearization. At the summit, the two sides confirmed what tasks they should fulfill in order to resolve the denuclearization issue and set the direction to actually carry out the tasks. The statement also says that there will be follow-on negotiations led by Pompeo and a high-level North Korean official to implement the outcomes of the summit. Taking these points into consideration, the joint statement carries great significance.

The two leaders promised to normalize bilateral relations, and the U.S. agreed to provide a security guarantee to North Korea in exchange for Pyongyang’s complete denuclearization. This part merits great attention. As a matter of fact, denuclearization is a long process. If the two sides hold talks many times and build trust, as they have agreed upon, the latest joint statement will be regarded as a significant step. But the agreement fell short of codifying the U.S. demand for “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization”, or CVID. Attention turns to why the statement includes the term “complete denuclearization” instead. Let’s hear again from Professor Nam.

I think North Korea’s position is reflected in the agreement. Pompeo mentioned CVID right before the summit, and Trump used the word “fantastic” after the summit. Therefore, many expected that the joint statement would contain Washington’s consistent demand for CVID. But it turned out that the statement was a mere repetition of the Panmunjeom Declaration that was adopted at the inter-Korean summit in late April. I think North Korea stuck to its principle, and the U.S. made a concession to the North in this part.

It seems the U.S. demanded the inclusion of CVID in the agreement up to the last minute, while the North was opposed to that. The use of the expression “complete denuclearization” is seen as Washington’s concession for the sake of reaching an agreement with North Korea. But during a press conference after the summit, Trump stressed that there was no need to worry about that. What Trump meant was that the principle of CVID could be implemented through follow-up negotiations if the two sides build trust, although the principle was not stipulated in the joint statement. After the agreement, Kim told Trump that his nation would destroy a major missile engine testing site, following the dismantlement of its nuclear test site. To implement the joint statement, Pompeo and a high-level North Korean official may hold a follow-up meeting as early as next week. If North Korea carries out complete denuclearization faithfully, Pyongyang and Washington will hopefully be able to establish their new relations—another point specified in the statement. Here again is Mr. Oh.

To establish new relations between North Korea and the U.S., Pyongyang should take initial steps toward denuclearization sincerely. If these conditions are met, South Korea, North Korea and the U.S. may declare an end to the Korean War to officially end the armistice that has lasted for decades. North Korea and the U.S. can also declare mutual non-aggression and an end to their hostility. The two sides may then take the steps of setting up liaison offices in Washington and Pyongyang, or exchanging trade representatives. When they undergo this process to normalize their diplomatic ties, the North and the U.S. will establish new bilateral relations.

If North Korea proceeds with its denuclearization smoothly, the U.S. and the two Koreas might declare a formal end to the Korean War. The end-of-war declaration will pave the way for building mutual trust between the North and the U.S. In line with the progress in North Korea’s denuclearization, the two sides may sign a peace treaty, establish liaison offices in each other’s capitals and normalize their relations. In the process, leaders of the two nations may hold another summit. When a reporter asked Trump if he will invite Kim to the White House, he said yes, making sure that he is willing to hold additional talks with the North Korean leader. The June 12 North Korea-U.S. summit ended at 2:44 p.m., with hope for a new era. Let’s hear now from Professor Nam.

The summit is believed to help end the long history of hostility between North Korea and the U.S. and resolve issues diplomatically. The summit is historically significant, as it has taken a step forward achieving denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and changing the basic structure of international politics in Northeast Asia. The two leaders have entered a new phase to deal with a challenging task, namely, denuclearization, in the belief that a new meeting will produce a new result. But considering that the two leaders signed a comprehensive document, rather than details, a second and third summit might be necessary. The two countries will have to discuss when and how denuclearization should be implemented through high-level talks. They need to make a lot of effort to bear fruit in the form of denuclearization.

The North Korea-U.S. summit signaled the beginning of a détente on the divided Korean Peninsula and world peace, but it also left a task to contend with. In regards to the combined military drills between South Korea and the U.S., Trump said that he thinks it is inappropriate to have war games while negotiations with North Korea are under way and that a halt to the drills will save money. His remarks came at a time when the U.S. mentioned a security assurance for the North Korean regime and easing military threats against the North. The presidential office in Seoul is circumspect about Trump’s comment, saying that the situation remains unchanged. In this situation, Mr. Oh says that President Moon’s pledge to take the “driver’s seat” when it comes to Korean Peninsula issues is becoming increasingly important.

Among the four points in the joint statement, how to realize complete denuclearization of North Korea has emerged as the most important task which should be discussed between North Korea and the U.S. In the negotiation process, the two sides may show widely differing views and the discussion might be held up. South Korea needs to maintain close cooperation with the U.S. so the U.S. can continue to push for North Korea’s complete denuclearization. It is also necessary for Seoul to deliver exactly what Pyongyang wants or demands to the U.S. That is, South Korea should play a mediating role more actively in encouraging both North Korea and the U.S. to address the denuclearization issue in a proper way so their relations will improve and a peace regime will be established on the Korean Peninsula eventually.

A significant change has begun, as North Korea and the U.S. have set out for a grand journey for peace, leaving their decades-long antagonism behind. Signaling the start of eliminating the last remnants of the Cold War, the recent Kim-Trump summit is compared to the 1989 Malta Summit between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that led to the end of the Cold War. In the course of this major change in international politics, it remains to be seen how South Korea, North Korea and the U.S. will put their hands together and display wisdom with the ultimate goal of settling lasting peace in this part of the world.

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