Thursday,20 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1396, (31 May - 6 June 2018)
Thursday,20 June, 2019
Issue 1396, (31 May - 6 June 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Shrewdness or folly

Trump’s negotiations tactics could pose the greatest threat to chances that an unprecedented summit be held with historic arch rival, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, reports Khaled Dawoud


Shrewdness or folly

Intense mediation by South Korean President Moon Jae-in reportedly played the key role in US President Donald Trump’s decision to reconsider his announcement that he was putting off an unprecedented summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, originally scheduled for 12 June in Singapore.

However, many observers believed that the quick reversal in Trump’s decision was yet another negotiation tactic by the businessman-president in order to gain more concessions from the elusive North Korean leader ahead of their awaited summit.

On Tuesday, Trump resorted to his most favourite communication platform, Twitter, to announce that a senior North Korean official was heading to New York to discuss the upcoming summit, the latest indication that the on-again off-again meeting between Trump and Kim may go ahead next month.

“We have put a great team together for our talks with North Korea. Meetings are currently taking place concerning the summit, and more. Kim Young Chol, the Vice Chairman of North Korea, heading now to New York. Solid response to my letter, thank you!” Trump said in a Twitter post.

Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, was scheduled to arrive in the United States yesterday, Wednesday, after speaking to Chinese officials in Beijing, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said, citing an unidentified source.

The talks indicate that planning for the historic summit is moving on following Trump’s announcement last week that he was calling it off. A day after that dramatic announcement, Trump said he had reconsidered, and officials from both countries were meeting to work out details.

Kim Yong Chol will be the most senior North Korean official to meet top officials for talks in the United States since Jo Myong Rok, a marshal, met then-president Bill Clinton at the White House in 2000.

Analysts believe the United States is trying to determine whether North Korea is willing to agree to sufficient steps towards denuclearisation to allow a summit to take place.

Shrewdness or folly

North Korean leader Kim’s de facto chief-of-staff, Kim Chang Son, meanwhile flew to Singapore via Beijing late Monday, Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported. At the same time, a “pre-advance” US team was in Singapore to meet North Koreans.

South Korea’s President Moon, who felt his own credibility was at stake following the extensive efforts he exerted to allow the summit meeting to take place, said Monday there could be more impromptu talks and summits with North Korea’s Kim ahead of the aspired US-North Korean summit.

Moon and Kim held a surprise meeting Saturday at the border village of Panmunjom, during which they agreed that a North Korea-US summit must be held.

“What’s more important than anything from the latest inter-Korean summit was that the leaders easily got in contact, easily made an appointment and easily met to discuss urgent matters, without complicated procedures and formalities, just like a casual meeting,” Moon told a meeting with senior secretaries.

On Sunday, the US State Department said US and North Korean officials had met at Panmunjom, a village in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that runs along the heavily armed border between North and South Korea.

A US official told Reuters that Sung Kim, the former US ambassador to South Korea, was leading the American delegation to meet North Korean officials at the border.

“It’s a good thing to have him onboard,” said a former senior South Korean official who worked with Sung Kim in the past. “He’s capable, level-headed, cautious, and has solid grasp of the issues and knows North Koreans well. But at the same time, he has healthy scepticism.”

Pentagon official Randall Schriver was also part of the US team, the US official said. The Washington Post first reported the team met with Choe Son Hui, the North Korean vice foreign minister. The US delegation also included Allison Hooker, the Korea expert on the White House National Security Council.

After weeks of political posturing by both Trump and Kim, analysts welcomed the news the United States had dispatched a team of seasoned negotiators to hold several days of preparatory talks with the North Koreans.

“Sending such an experienced and professional team signals that the Trump administration is getting serious about the specifics of an agreement,” said former US deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia Abraham Denmark. 

“It’s also an implicit acknowledgment that running this negotiation out of the Oval Office has not worked, and that lower-level officials are needed to work out the details before a summit can take place.”

Still, with only a few weeks left until the scheduled summit, such talks are unlikely to reconcile the differing positions over Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal, he said.

“No matter how experienced and knowledgeable these officials are, they will not be able to change the fundamental challenge between the United States and North Korea over its status as a nuclear power.” 

North Korea has faced years of economic sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes since it conducted its first nuclear test in 2006.

The United States has struggled to slow the isolated country’s weapons programmes, which have become a security priority for Washington given Pyongyang’s promise to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the US mainland.

In remarks Sunday, Moon acknowledged Pyongyang and Washington may have differing expectations of what denuclearisation means and he urged both sides to hold working-level talks to resolve their differences.

The United States has demanded the “complete, verifiable, and irreversible” dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme. Pyongyang has rejected unilateral disarmament and has always couched its language in terms of denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.

In previous, failed talks, North Korea said it could consider giving up its arsenal if Washington removed its troops from South Korea and withdrew its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from South Korea and Japan.

Moon said Saturday’s summit with Kim, which was organised on short notice after the North Korean leader requested a meeting, should be a model for increased contact between the leaders of the two Koreas.

“If we could hold working-level, back-to-back talks on both sides of Panmunjom if urgently necessary in addition to formal summits, it would expedite faster advancement of inter-Korean relations,” Moon told his aides.

Shares in South Korean construction and railway firms surged after Trump said his officials and North Korea have resumed talks to prepare for the summit in June.

However, South Korea was not the only party concerned about the consequences of the upcoming summit between Trump and Kim. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also spoke to Trump by telephone Monday and the two agreed to meet before the scheduled summit.

Abe has been worried that Trump might make a nuclear disarmament deal with North Korea that protects the United States but does not address Tokyo’s worries about the North’s short-range missiles that could hit Japan.

By offering to meet with the US president before he heads to Singapore, Abe hopes to be one of the last advisers to have his ear before he meets Kim.

Abe told reporters that Trump had briefed him on plans for the summit meeting, although the Japanese leader did not provide details.

The White House said in a statement that Trump and Abe had agreed Monday to cooperate on the “shared imperative” of seeking the “complete and permanent dismantlement” of North Korea’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missile programmes.

According to NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, Abe — who met with President Vladimir Putin of Russia over the weekend — conveyed both Japan’s and Russia’s support for the summit meeting to go forward.

Of the countries seeking to influence negotiations with North Korea, Japan has remained the most hard-line, consistently calling for complete and immediate denuclearisation as well as the removal of all missiles and biological weapons.

It has also remained highly sceptical about North Korea’s intentions, reminding the United States that the North has signed and reneged on multiple previous nuclear deals.


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