Gleb Ivashentsov, an expert from the Valdai Discussion Club, writes about whether or not to wait for results from the meeting between the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea in Da Nang.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump will hold the second summit on the North Korean missile program in Da Nang, Vietnam, on Feb. 27 and 28. This meeting is long overdue. More than eight months have passed since the first North Korean-American summit in Singapore last June. But will there be progress this time?
Pyongyang has taken a number of concrete steps aimed at developing a dialogue with Washington. For over a year, North Korea hasn’t conducted any nuclear tests or missile launches. They destroyed the Punggye-ri nuclear site. Kim announced his readiness to close the missile test site at Tonchkhan-ni, and to liquidate North Korea's main nuclear facility, the Yongbyon reactor.
The American side, however, hasn’t yet decided how to proceed. The main sticking point are the sanctions imposed against North Korea in connection with its nuclear missile program. Pyongyang has the right to expect that measures it has already taken will be met by the lifting of at least some of these restrictions. Washington persists in maintaining the sanctions until the complete nuclear disarmament of North Korea. There’s also the question of ending joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which Pyongyang rightly considers to be a rehearsal for invasion of North Korea. In Singapore, Trump spoke about his intention to stop these exercises, especially because they are costing the U.S. a lot of money. But there’s no evidence that the upcoming spring exercises will not take place.
In his New Year’s address, Kim said that the main condition for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula would be a new relationship between North Korea and the U.S. based on mutual trust and free from demonization. For Pyongyang, this is not an easy task. For decades, North Koreans have been brought up to resist American imperialism. There are examples for how to solve this. Both China and Vietnam have overcome similar situations.
Future relations between North Korea and the U.S. could reach the level of today’s relationship between Vietnam and the U.S.; memories of the Vietnam War don’t prevent the two countries from working together. Perhaps this was the reason for holding the second North Korean-American summit not just anywhere, but in Da Nang, Vietnam.
Judging by Kim’s New Year’s address, he believes that it is possible for both the U.S. and North Korea to stop demonizing each other. But is America ready for this?
Resolving the situation doesn’t depend only on Kim and Trump. The “young marshal” Kim is in a better position than Trump, in terms of his domestic political agenda. Trump is bound hand and foot by the general opposition of the Democratic Party, and by the fact that a considerable number of Republicans, who traditionally see the North Korean state as the embodiment of evil, disagree with him on Pyongyang.
There’s no certainty that Trump will win the upcoming U.S. presidential elections. Kim understands this and would like to avoid a situation where Trump’s successor refuses to accept any obligations that the current American leader assumes, just as Trump now abandons treaties that his predecessor entered into. Therefore, in his New Year’s address, the leader of North Korea said that if the U.S. continues to impose sanctions and pressure North Korea, Pyongyang will look for a new way to protect the sovereignty of the country and its interests.
It’s in everyone's interest that the results of the Da Nang summit do not force Pyongyang to pursue such a new option.