By Prarthana Mitra
After months of trading insults, US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made a dramatic turn as the two agreed to meet for the first time at a North Korean summit by May. Following talks in Pyongyang on Monday, South Korea’s national security adviser Chung Eui-Yong announced that Kim has reportedly sought a meeting with Trump. “[Kim] expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible,” Chung confirmed to reporters outside the White House. Chung also announced that Kim has agreed to halt North Korea’s nuclear and missile testing.
The announcement of the planned meet came a day after China called on North Korea and the US to hold direct talks. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said that his country expresses “full affirmation that the parties concerned are committed to solving problems through dialogue and consultation”.
North Korea and the US do not have diplomatic relations and are technically still at war after the 1950-53 Korea War, which ended in a ceasefire and not a peace treaty. No serving US president has ever met a North Korean leader.
A ‘historical milestone’
Trump took to Twitter to say “great progress” was being made but that although Kim has agreed to denuclearise, “sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached”.
Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze. Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time. Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 9, 2018
However, despite there being some trepidation, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said talks between Trump and Kim would be a “historic milestone” that will put the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula “really on track“.
Peace at last?
Trump and Kim have reportedly said they are committed to permanent denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and have hinted that the meet might eventually lead to substantive peace talks, which would be an extraordinary achievement. However, the moment is also “fraught with danger”; given the level of international scrutiny the meet is sure to get, there could be some backlash from Kim or Trump, or both, if they feel they are not getting their way.
Trump’s expectations that Kim will trade his nuclear weapons for sanctions relief may be “ill-conceived”. Most rationalists agree that it would be a bad bargain on Korea’s part to concede that which guarantees the survival of Kim’s dynastic regime.
While peace-lovers around the world look forward to a positive summit between the two, most economists and policymakers are not too hopeful but are excited by the possibilities nevertheless.
Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Non-proliferation Program at Monterey, told The Guardian, “[…] Kim is not inviting Trump so that he can surrender North Korea’s weapons. Kim is inviting Trump to demonstrate that his investment in nuclear and missile capabilities has forced the United States to treat him as an equal.”
Several US officials remain sceptical as well, with one even telling the Financial Times the North Koreans are “used to deception”.
For now, even as the agenda of the first-ever meeting between a US President and North Korean leader remains to be decided, one wonders where the meeting will be held—the US or North Korea? Or perhaps a ‘neutral’ location like China or South Korea?
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius