The Korean summit has left both Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un feeling more confident – so what happens next?

Trump greeted people with the tweet ‘KOREAN WAR TO END’ and then, unsurprisingly, claimed credit for the talks. But Kim Jong-un knows full denuclearisation would put his country in a vulnerable position

Kim Sengupta
Friday 27 April 2018 19:05
Comments
Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in make history by stepping into each other's territory at South Korea summit

The statement by the leaders of the two Koreas was grand enough in its aspiration to match this extraordinary and momentous day – denuclearisation, replacing confrontation with cooperation, nothing less than the seeking of a new age of peace.

And, beyond it, there is the hope of all this leading to the ultimate dream: unification of a divided country which had drawn international powers into its war and the decades of enmity which followed. Kim Jong-un’s declaration that the North and South were “brethren who should not live apart” and “will become one” is not something which is practical, or something that Seoul would want, in the short term, but it is something which remains the ultimate prize.

The summit, choreographed minutely and extremely well, was highly significant in setting up the building blocks for peace after 60 years of hostility: the first meeting between the heads of the North and the South for more than a decade, which is a big step in defusing the dangerous escalation started by Pyongyang’s nuclear threats and missile launches.

But the inter-Korean cordiale was, in reality, a supporting act for the main event: the proposed summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, supposedly taking place in the next few weeks; a coming together of two leaders who had been involved in a fierce verbal war in which each side threatened to unleash a real war – with potentially catastrophic consequences.

The fact that the meeting between Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in went so well should be a good augur for the one between Kim and the Trump. Who knows, the US president may even take a shine to Kim as he has done with other young international leaders like Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau. Disagreements may take place, as they do between Trump and Trudeau and Trump and Macron, without insults about “little rocket men” and “old dotards”.

But, in reality, matters are more complicated. Soothing as the words were in Panmunjom, nothing concrete was decided. There is, for instance, no timeframe on offer for the North to denuclearise. The US demand remains that the North carries out unconditional nuclear disarmament with international monitoring to verify that it is taking place. And the West has experience of Pyongyang offering negotiations and making promises in the past with it all coming to nothing.

Trump is said to be feeling more confident now in pursuing his own policies as president than when he first came to the White House, and feeling less need to listen to his advisers. His desire to be seen as the “great dealmaker” may tempt him to offer Kim concessions, but his administration, with two hawkish members John Boton and Mike Pompeo now in place, will fight hard against him going too far down that road.

Trump greeted people with the tweet “KOREAN WAR TO END” and then, unsurprisingly, claimed credit for the talks, declaring they were only taking place because of his tough tweets on North Korea. “When I began, people were saying that that was an impossibility. 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,” he declared.

What that alternative would be remains unknown,and what happens in the future will be influenced by other, wider international factors. Kim Jong-un and his coterie may well be considering, in particular, two episodes – one from the recent past, the other from the near future, in shaping their policies.

Muammar Gaddafi thought he had brought his Libyan regime in from the cold after agreeing to abandon his nuclear programme in 2003 at the behest of the West. Eight years later a Nato bombing campaign enabled rebels to overthrow him – a bombing campaign which would not have taken place if he had amassed a nuclear arsenal.

Iran has signed a deal on its nuclear programme with six international states. Donald Trump, egged on by Israel and Saudi Arabia, is set to tear it up despite the other signatories – Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – stressing that it is working and that Tehran is fulfilling its obligations.

Trump’s reneging of the deal, with its hugely damaging repercussions, would take place soon before he is due to meet Kim Jong-un. The North Korean leader cannot be blamed for thinking that the US has shown it is not a country which can be trusted to abide by international agreements.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in