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Discuss the just-concluded North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi

2019-02-28

© YONHAP News

Expectations ran high for the second North Korea-U.S. summit in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi on February 27 and 28, as the result of the important talks could provide a clue as to how to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue that has been the chief security concern in the region for the past three decades.


Unfortunately, the summit was abruptly cut short, with a planned lunch and a signing ceremony cancelled on Thursday. The two sides walked away without an agreement. 


The prospects for denuclearization and the future of peace on the Korean Peninsula quickly turn opaque once again. With more, here is commentator Lee Jong-hoon. 


Both leaders unexpectedly returned to their respective hotels after the expanded meeting on Thursday, and President Trump held an unannounced press conference before boarding his plane for the U.S. It seems he wrapped up the summit rather hurriedly. The whole situation looks very unusual


The Hanoi summit was a highly important event, since the result of the talks could have determined whether the denuclearization process moves forward. If the talks turned out well, efforts to settle lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula would gain traction. If not, nuclear negotiations would lose steam, with many around the world questioning the North Korean leader’s commitment to denuclearization. 


In fact, the mood in Hanoi was positive at the beginning. Kim and Trump held a 30-minute one-on-one meeting on Thursday morning and took a walk together in the garden at Metropol Hotel, the summit venue. They were observed smiling together, seemingly deep in conversation. However, the nuclear negotiations failed to produce agreement between the two sides.


As indicated in the press conference, Trump seems to have demanded that North Korea do more than just dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear facilities in exchange for kind of sanctions relief sought by Kim. Trump implied that North Korea’s highly-enriched uranium facilities, less known to the general public but which have been detected and monitored through satellite imagery, should be frozen and open to inspections. Apparently, the North Korean side was taken off guard by such demands and dismissed the idea. 


North Korea, for its part, demanded that the U.S. lift all sanctions against the North on the assumption that Pyongyang denuclearizes. It seems the two sides failed to reach a compromise on these parts. 


North Korea and the United States failed to narrow their differences over what North Korea should do in terms of denuclearization and what the United States should do in return, as well as the sequence of such actions. During a post-summit news conference, President Donald Trump said North Korea’s persistent demand for the complete removal of international sanctions on the North was what caused the summit to collapse.  Denuclearization is a long, complicated and difficult process which defies easy negotiations. Kim Jong-un promised to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear complex and allow international inspections when he met U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Pyongyang in October last year. 


Kim also made the same promise earlier in September in the Pyongyang Declaration issued after his summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Kim also mentioned opening the Punggye-ri nuclear test site for international inspection and shutting down the Tonchang-ri intercontinental ballistic missile launch site. 


But he demanded corresponding measures from the United States in return for the proposed moves, the scope of which are believed to have caused the collapse of the latest summit. 


President Trump said Washington had prepared a joint statement to be announced after the summit, and the United States could have signed a deal with North Korea if he had decided to do so. He said he decided not to sign a deal because he wanted to get a better, more perfect one. As his comments suggest, Washington wanted to extract maximum results from the U.S.-North Korea summit. North Korea also wants to win as many concessions as possible from the United States, which is presumably what caused the breakup in dialogue. 


If the two countries had reached agreement on the dismantlement of the Yongbyon nuclear complex, they could have reached a new milestone in the history of their nuclear negotiations. The collapse of the negotiations draws attention to what lies ahead down the road in their negotiations. North Korea and the United States are expected to continue negotiations while maintaining the status quo, but what is important is the decision the leaders of the two countries will make. 


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is in an embarrassing position after the collapse of the negotiations. He wanted to return to Pyongyang with good results to tout as his achievement, but this didn’t materialize. It could be a political burden for him. It’s the same thing for Donald Trump, but not a burden as big as it is for Kim. Trump may want to continue dialogue with North Korea and try to use it as a domestic political win to his advantage.


Attention now turns to possible repercussions of the collapse of the much-anticipated summit, particularly how Pyongyang will respond. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who wanted to get sanctions lifted ostensibly for economic development, failed in his endeavor. There are concerns that he may return to a provocations toward the United States to allay internal discontent, but it’s too early to be pessimistic. 


As US President Donald Trump said, the United States is expected to continue in its dialogue momentum. If his pledge proves true, Washington will not end negotiations. In that case, a third summit between North Korea and the United State may be pursued. If President Trump wants to use the North Korea card for domestic political purposes, it’s likely that he’ll push for another summit with Pyongyang. The two countries may hold additional rounds of working-level talks to reach agreement on an agenda, including a full list of nuclear facilities Washington wants Pyongyang to declare. 


During a news conference after the collapse of the summit with North Korea, U.S. President Donald Trump said it’s now time to walk away. However, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed hope at the same conference that there will be agreements within several weeks. 


Their remarks are seen as an indication that despite their failure to produce a successful outcome from the Hanoi summit, North Korea and the United States may continue dialogue to find a breakthrough in the longstanding nuclear impasse.

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