Wednesday,21 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1392, (3 - 9 May 2018)
Wednesday,21 November, 2018
Issue 1392, (3 - 9 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

For peace or posterity?

By pursuing an unprecedented meeting with North Korea’s leader, Trump is looking for a place in history, and maybe a Nobel Peace Prize, writes Khaled Dawoud

For peace or posterity?
For peace or posterity?

After weeks of consideration and debate, the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas might finally be the location for a historic and unprecedented meeting expected to be held late May between US President Donald Trump and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong-un.

CNN reported Tuesday that South Korean President Moon Jae-in has convinced the young North Korean leader to hold his upcoming meeting with Trump at Panmunjom, the same location where the two Korean leaders met a week ago. While the location is the most practical and closest to Kim’s isolated country, Trump also said Monday that he liked the place, probably due to its historic significance, which would guarantee extensive television coverage.

During a press conference with visiting Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Trump said, “We’re looking at various countries, including Singapore. And we are also talking about the possibility of the DMZ Peace House/Freedom House.”

“I think that some people maybe don’t like the look of that,” Trump said of the idea of a DMZ summit. “And some people like it very much.”

He said he had raised the idea with Moon, days after dramatic images of Moon meeting Kim at Peace House on Friday, 27 April, dominated the news.

“There’s something that I like about it because you’re there,” Trump said. “You’re actually there, where if things work out, there’s a great celebration to be had on the site,” he added.

While the meeting between Moon and Kim led to an agreement to “denuclearise the Korean Peninsula” and formally end the Korean War, Trump hopes he would get a pledge from the North Korean leader, whom he traded insults with until recently, that he will give up his nuclear arsenal and end nuclear and long-range missile tests.

Besides the historic significance of the location, White House officials believe that the DMZ is suitable to hold the summit because media facilities and equipment are already in place, which could allow the summit to take place “in late May”.

Millions watched Moon’s meeting with Kim last Friday, the first meeting between leaders of North and South Korea in a decade.

Cameras followed the leaders’ movements throughout the day, from Moon’s departure from Seoul to the moment Kim crossed the demarcation line into the South, and encouraged Moon to cross to the North.

The US president wants to be involved in similar scenes when he becomes the first sitting US president to meet a North Korean leader, the source said. He’s keen to take part in a cross-border handshake, but also wants photos to document the moment if he decides to stand up and walk out of talks, as he warned he could do in earlier statements.

However, concerns remain inside the administration that Trump may be too eager for a deal. Those same sceptics worry that holding the meeting at the DMZ will appear conciliatory towards Kim.

As a result, US officials are still arguing for Singapore as a possible location for the talks, telling Trump it presents a more neutral option, informed US officials said. But one senior official conceded the symbolism wouldn’t be there, and noted there are still logistical considerations to worry about with Singapore.

However, Trump might not only be looking for extensive TV coverage, but even a Nobel Peace Prize. South Korean President Moon was actually the first to raise the idea. While excluding suggestions that he receive a Nobel Peace Prize himself, Moon said that Trump “can take the Nobel prize” as long as the Koreas receive peace in return.

Moon made the comment Monday in response to a suggestion that he receive the award by the widow of late South Korean president Kim Dae-jung, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 after a summit with then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

For Trump, the bid for a statesman’s mantle also appeals to his political base. When he started talking about the coming negotiation with Kim during a rally in Washington, Michigan, on Saturday, scattered cries of “Nobel! Nobel!” began and then grew into a sustained chant.

“That’s very nice, thank you,” Trump replied. “Nobel,” he said with a chuckle, as if testing the ring of it. “I just want to get the job done.” Former US president Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize only weeks after taking office, reflecting the world’s hopes that he would reverse the course in which his predecessor, George W Bush, launched unilateral wars around the world.

Trump stressed Monday that his ultimate goal was that North Korea would abandon its nuclear programme. But he has shown far more openness than previous presidents to the concept of a peace treaty that would formally end the Korean War. North Korea has long pushed for such a treaty, and the current South Korean government favours it as well.

Meanwhile, South Korea started Tuesday removing propaganda-broadcasting loudspeakers from the border with North Korea, as the rivals move to follow through with their leaders’ summit declaration that produced reconciliation steps without a breakthrough in the nuclear standoff. Seoul said it expected North Korea to do the same, and remove its propaganda loudspeakers directed towards the South.

During their summit Friday, Kim and Moon agreed to end hostile acts against each other along their tense border, establish a liaison office and resuming reunions of separated families. They also agreed to achieve a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, but failed to produce specific timeframes and disarmament steps.

Also, on Monday, the North’s parliament adopted a decree to sync its time zone with South Korea’s this Saturday. North Korea’s official news agency said the move was made at the proposal of Kim, who found it was “a painful wrench to see two clocks indicating Pyongyang and Seoul times hanging on a wall of the summit venue”.

The North in 2015 had set its clocks 30 minutes behind South Korea and Japan, saying the measure was aimed at rooting out the legacy of Tokyo’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Seoul’s announcement on removing loudspeakers came a day after it said Kim told Moon during their summit that he would shut down his country’s only known nuclear testing site and allow outside experts and journalists to watch the process.

South Korean officials also cited Kim as saying he would be willing to give up his nuclear programme if the United States committed to a formal end to the Korean War and a pledge not to attack the North. Kim already suspended his nuclear and missile tests while offering to put his nuclear weapons up for negotiations.

The closing of the Punggy-ri test site, where all six of North Korea’s atomic bomb tests occurred, could be an eye-catching disarmament step by North Korea. But there is still deep scepticism over whether Kim is truly willing to negotiate away the nuclear weapons that his country has built after decades of struggle.

According to a summit accord, Kim and Moon agreed to achieve “a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearisation,” rather than clearly stating “a nuclear-free North Korea”. North Korea has long said the term “denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula” must include the United States pulling its 28,500 troops out of South Korea and removing its so-called “nuclear umbrella” security commitment to South Korea and Japan.

Kim could offer more disarmament concessions during his meeting with Trump, but it’s unclear what specific steps he would take. Some experts say Kim may announce scrapping North Korea’s long-range missile programme, which has posed a direct threat to the United States.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton reacted coolly to word that Kim would abandon his weapons if the United States pledged not to invade.

Asked on CBS’s “Face the Nation” whether the US would make such a promise, Bolton said: “Well, we’ve heard this before. This is — the North Korean propaganda playbook is an infinitely rich resource. What we want to see from them is evidence that it’s real and not just rhetoric.”

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