General Wesley Clark discusses the canceled North Korean summit and the potential for negotiation. He states, “The problem posed by North Korea is indeed difficult. So, rather than taking the summit cancellation as a setback, the U.S. should take it as an opportunity to establish a robust process that can truly deal with the issues threatening security and stability in Northeast Asia.”
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President Trump announced on Thursday that he was canceling the summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. In order to put to find common ground going forward, the U.S. needs to follow a road map that addresses the many thorny issues around the complicated task of getting North Korea to denuclearize.
In any business deal – and this is one way to look at the once-scheduled meeting between the two heads of state – there is always jockeying to get the best deal.
So, was this just two CEO’s trading mutual insults and insinuations to gain the upper hand? And could it be put back together, as the president hints in his letter to Kim?
It might happen, but any summit meeting will still have to confront many difficult issues – and it is more likely that Kim has deliberately pulled the plug on the meeting in order to protect his equities and to set the stage for a later, possibly more successful meeting.
In the first place, the two sides were far apart in their expectations. The U.S. expected an immediate denuclearization, including Pyongyang giving up nuclear-tipped ICBMs in return for U.S. promises, while Kim expected the immediate lifting of economic sanctions in return for his promises to eventually “denuclearize,” with emphasis on the eventually.
“Failing to address these matters might make any agreement
simply an equivalent to the discarded treaty with Iran.”
These disparate expectations were unsatisfactory for both sides because there is no basis for trust by either party. Kim has seen what happened to Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi after he gave up his nuclear program and more recently, as in the Iran nuclear deal, that the U.S. is capable of walking away from a solemn agreement if it chooses to do so.
On the other side, for years the North Korean regime has made promises and agreements, most of which it violated in secret or openly. No basis for trust.
Both sides need to back away and recalibrate what they hope to achieve in the long term, and then put in place, through lower level working groups, a possible roadmap for getting there.
This article is part of our Professor’s Perspective series—a place for experts to share their views and opinions on current events.
But there are even deeper issues at play here. Among these are the continued presence of U.S. troops, North Korean non-nuclear forces and their dispositions, and North Korean behavior beyond its nuclear program.
And unless these are addressed successfully in the run-up to a future summit, any U.S.-North Korea agreement to denuclearize could be as fraught with problems as the now discarded Iran deal.
Substantial sticking point
On the issue of continued U.S. troop presence, apparently, Mr. Kim has said he would accept it, with the implication that he might use it to offset Chinese control over the isolated nation. But China certainly would have another view – they have long wanted the U.S. out of Korea.
This issue alone could prove a substantial sticking point since China has a commanding position over the North’s economy. Will the U.S. simply abide by China’s wishes and depart, leaving Northeast Asia to other powers? It would be a recipe for regional instability.
And then, would we leave North Korea’s million-man army in place, allowing it to use sanctions relief to further build up its strength? And would Seoul be happy to see the North remain in its artillery and rockets positions just north of the DMZ, posing a continuing lethal threat to Seoul?
And what about North Korea’s chemical and biologic weapons? Must they not be given up in accordance with international treaties? None of these issues have been mentioned thus far.
Finally, on my list, would be North Korean behavior. State-sanctioned murder? Kidnappings? Cyber attacks? Missile technology and nuclear know-how proliferation?
Failing to address these matters might make any agreement simply an equivalent to the discarded treaty with Iran.
But would the North really give all this up? And how would it be verified?
The problem posed by North Korea is indeed difficult. So, rather than taking the summit cancellation as a setback, the U.S. should take it as an opportunity to establish a robust process that can truly deal with the issues threatening security and stability in Northeast Asia.