And finally, Donald J. Trump and Kim Jong-un met yesterday at a hotel in Singapore. The meeting was absolutely exceptional because of the traditional break in relations between the United States and North Korea. Despite numerous delays and certain explosive statements that cast doubt on the meeting, Trump, Kim and their teams debated over five hours on a consensus solution to both the nuclear issue of North Korea and peace in the peninsula.
Although it may not mean anything.
“Stable and durable”. The document signed by both leaders at the end of the summit establishes, in theory, the main lines from which both states will work. It proposes a progressive “denuclearization” of the juché regime (although it does not specify how or even what it implies) and assures to seek a “stable and lasting” peace. It is a commitment similar to what Kim Jong-un acquired with its southern counterpart a few months ago. It seems an important step.
The precedents. And in fact it is, because even just a year ago Trump was declaring on Twitter an explicit threat of war on North Korea. But it must be taken with caution: North Korea has made and broken its promises continuously since the late nineties. The country has entered and abandoned the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty on a regular basis and has committed on more than one occasion to a “peace” with South Korea or the US.
2005 in memoriam. The most obvious case may be that of 2005. After a decade of theoretical progress, the Bush Administration decided to denounce North Korea publicly for its limited efforts to get rid of its nuclear arsenal. The country sat down again at the negotiating table in 2005, promising, once again, to leave behind its nuclear weapons. The agreement again jumped into the air. All subsequent recompositions have ended, without exception, in failure.
Will it be different? Can be. Kim Jong-un’s incentives are today different from those of his predecessors. North Korea has already shown its ability to build a nuclear missile (and theoretically reach the United States), so its negotiating position is stronger today than it was a decade ago. Delivering your nuclear arsenal (on your own terms) can return you to the theater of nations, further ease sanctions and place you as a global agent.
The United States considers that the opening of North Korea has come as a result of the increased pressures. However, many analysts point to Kim Jong-un’s own interest in getting here (a voluntary, interested cession). If so, we would be closer to a “peace” and a stable situation in North Korea than in the past.
What comes next. The United States and North Korea should define the terms of the agreement. It is possible that Kim wants to summarize it to the nuclear issue, and that Trump can not get much more than that. The situation would be similar to that of Iran in 2015: a temporary or total freeze of North Korea’s nuclear progress, but a virtual free bar to continue developing its ballistic program. This last motive partly motivated the rupture of the agreement on the part of Trump.