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Donald Trump deserves ‘little credit’ for North and South Korean peace agreement, experts say

He seized on the signing of a peace agreement to say the American people 'should be proud' 

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Friday 27 April 2018 20:33 BST
Korean leaders sign declaration agreeing to complete denuclearisation of Korean peninsula

US President Donald Trump has taken some credit for the peace agreement between North Korea and South Korea, but experts have said he deserves little of it.

In a historic and opulent ceremony, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) to sign the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula during the Inter-Korean Summit and officially ended the war that began when the north and south split in a battle over communism and democracy that began on 25 June 1950.

After the summit on Friday morning, the US president immediately tweeted: “KOREAN WAR TO END! The United States, and all of its GREAT people, should be very proud of what is now taking place in Korea!” implying that he played an important part in it.

“When I began, people were saying that was an impossibility,” Mr Trump said meeting with US Winter Olympics athletes who participated in this year’s games in South Korea. “They said there were two alternatives: Let them have what they have, or go to war. And now we have a much better alternative than anybody thought even possible”.

Dr TJ Pempel, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley told The Independent while Mr Trump “deserves some credit but not as much as he’s taking”. While the United Nations sanctions on Pyongyang involved the US push from Ambassador Nikki Haley, that is “hardly the whole story”, Mr Pempel said.

China’s agreement to the sanctions was far more important,” he noted. The important point to note, he said, was that North Korea developed its nuclear programme considerably after Mr Trump took office. “The North is convinced that it has the upper hand in negotiations because of its nuclear and missile testing successes; the US thinks it has the upper hand because it believes Kim is negotiating because of the sanctions. It’s the combination that has triggered the North’s willingness to sit down”.

In a sign that perhaps Mr Trump recognises he was not the catalyst for the agreement, he also tweeted on Friday: “Please do not forget the great help that my good friend, President Xi [Jinping] of China...particularly at the Border of North Korea. Without him it would have been a much longer, tougher, process!”

Donald Trump says he 'believes' North Korea leader Kim Jong Un about peace talks

Mr Pempel said Pyongyang will not fully denuclearise given the trajectory of other world leaders after they gave up nuclear weapons and development programmes. They are looking towards Iraq and Libya, whose leaders Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi were both killed as a result of western military intervention.

Several experts have noted that North Korea also sees Iran as a key example of how Pyongyang could be treated as well. Mr trump has repeatedly said he is considering ditching the Iran nuclear deal – formally known as the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). It was a key foreign policy achievement of former President Barack Obama.

Earlier this week, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both met with Mr Trump to urge him not to leave the historic agreement which involves France, Germany, the UK, Russia, China, and the US.

Though the Trump administration agreed Iran’s nuclear programme is a major threat, the president announced in October 2017 he would not re-certify a nuclear deal signed by Iran and six world powers. Despite the evidence provided by the United Nations on Tehran’s compliance with the deal, Mr Trump said it was too lenient on Iran. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has backed Mr Macron’s stance on the deal.

The administration continues to say the country has violated portions of it. Not re-certifying the deal or abandoning it will open the door for harsher economic sanctions to be placed on the country, the mitigation of which was a key inducement for Iran to comply with the historic deal. What concerns many Washington insiders is that Mr Trump’s newest hire as National Security Adviser John Bolton is quite hawkish on pulling out of the deal as is his newly-appointed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has called the agreement “disastrous”.

“Why should Kim think North Korea without nukes would be treated differently?,” Mr Pempel asked, adding that the the US “is a definite player in this drama and any deal brokered without a US sign-off will not work,” but it remains to be seen if Mr Trump’s personal presence will detract or foster better relations and an actual agreement of some kind.

Alison Evans, Deputy Head of Asia Pacific Country Risk, at the research firm IHS Markit said her “assessment is that Trump should receive minimal, if any, credit”.

Ms Evans said that the president’s “high-pressure tactics only confirmed to North Korea that they were on the right course...developing {and now maintaining) nuclear weapons for their safety”. However, she said that the meeting between Mr Moon and Mr Kim was a positive indicator that the planned meeting between the North Korean leader and Mr Trump next month is “more than likely to go ahead”.

She said that “like the Kim-Moon joint statement calling for denuclearisation of peninsula, it is probable that North Korea will agree to some language referring to nuclear weapons in a statement after the Kim-Moon or planned Kim-Trump summit” but that they may want it to apply to the whole peninsula, not just Pyongyang.

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