he second summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, -- both of whom at one time insultingly described each other as a ‘little rocket man’ and ‘a mentally deranged US dotard’ (meaning ‘a state or period of senile decay, marked by a decline of mental alertness) -- commenced in Vietnam on February 27. The summit ended somewhat unexpectedly the next day.
Whilst many, especially in the US, feared President Trump would sign a deal detrimental to US aspirations in the Asia region, the summit was brought to a close long before it was scheduled to, with both parties departing their separate ways.
There were no signing of agreements. There were no hand shakes between the leaders before the gathered media. The working lunch, though prepared and ready was abruptly cancelled and the two leaders went their separate ways contradicting and blaming each other for the summit’s failure at separately held press conferences.
At his news conference, Trump said that North Korean counterpart Kim had offered to dismantle its Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Centre and in return wanted the lifting of sanctions imposed on his country. According to Trump other conditions were required for the lifting of sanctions, such as a complete report of all nuclear facilities and denuclearisation by North Korea.
However, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told reporters on Thursday that North Korea had only asked the US for partial sanctions relief, and had offered a “realistic proposal” on denuclearization. He added Kim may have “lost the will” to negotiate in the wake of the summit collapse. According to Bloomberg News, North Korea had specifically requested a batch of sanctions imposed by a series of UN resolutions in 2016 and 2017 be lifted. Ri’s statement appeared to rebut Trump’s claim that North Korea “wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety”
Before the summit, many felt that Trump was already set on reaching a deal at any cost and was ready to make major concessions to do so. Still others speculated that Trump, had his eye on the Nobel Peace Prize as he sought another term in office, whilst many were of the opinion Trump would move to declare an official end to the Korean War fought from 1950-53, or would at least agree to some economic exchange between North and South Korea as a means of drawing attention away from the ongoing Muller investigation and the damning testimony of his personal counsel Michael Cohen at the ongoing House of Representatives investigations.
Similarly, the North Korean knowing Trump’s ambitions and the political problems in the US came out strongly demanding the lifting of sanctions.
There is also speculation that Ri’s claim that Kim may have “lost the will” to negotiate in the wake of the summit collapse, was more for domestic North Korean consumption as Kim had travelled hundreds of miles to Vietnam and was now returning empty handed.
Trump and Kim were expected to sign a deal at the end of their summit in Vietnam, but it did not happen. Trump explained at his press conference that it was because North Korea wanted full sanctions relief in exchange for shutting down Yongbyon, a key nuclear facility.
Japan’s ‘Mainichi’ succinctly described the summit in less than two dozen words... ‘one might say the leaders were in the same place but in different worlds’. However, a positive outcome of what appears to have been an ill-prepared summit, is that the two leaders agreed to continue talking. And that is good.
What is at issue however, is that the US should have known what North Korea wanted before the summit and this is probably the most important takeaway. Trump’s decision to rely almost solely on his personal engagement with Kim meant that much of the hard, behind-the-scenes work required to make a summit of this importance a success went largely neglected.
Had the President used the traditional diplomatic systems, like letting working-level staff, work out the finer details of a summit, staff could have produced a near-ready agreement for Trump and Kim to finalise together.
Unfortunately this did not happen. Today, because of Trump’s lack of knowledge on basic ground realities, a chance to end the world’s longest war (there is no peace treaty ending the Korean war; only an armistice agreement) was for the moment lost -- an outcome that might have been avoided.