US-North Korea Summit at Panmunjom: Fewer Flashy Performances, More Substance

This summit may have materialized as unexpectedly as a pony emerging from a gourd, but we ought to be cautious about calling it a diplomatic success.

While visiting South Korea, President Donald Trump held a summit with Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, at Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone.

The summit went far beyond normal diplomatic protocol. While in Osaka for the Group of 20 summit of industrial and emerging-market nations, Trump invited Kim to a meeting via Twitter “just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!” Kim said he was “surprised” by the tweet and responded by hurriedly arranging the meeting.

Nevertheless, both leaders smiled and exchanged handshakes while surrounded by the media in the DMZ, and Trump managed a flashy performance in which he became the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in North Korea.

After the summit in Hanoi this February broke off, the future of North Korean-American relations grew increasingly opaque. Domestic developments in both nations were taking place behind the scenes of this hastily arranged meeting that reversed the sense of strained relations.

Before his reunion with Kim, Trump congratulated himself on his historic achievement and emphasized how horrible relations with North Korea had been under the previous administration of Barack Obama. He is obviously trying to present an easing of tension on the Korean Peninsula as a personal diplomatic accomplishment in advance of next year’s presidential election.

With respect to Iran, which has the same nuclear problem, Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear agreement and associates himself with those who are intensifying passions in the Middle East. This posture in inconsistent with Trump’s position regarding North Korea.

As for Kim, he rectified the dead end after the Hanoi summit fell through, and Trump’s invitation was an unmistakably convenient way for him to enhance his own gravitational pull.

The third contact between the American and North Korean heads of state will likely contribute to relaxing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. However, diplomacy is not about personal friendship. The point is to find a solution to the problem of denuclearizing North Korea.

America has stressed that there must be complete denuclearization before there will be sanctions relief for North Korea. North Korea is seeking relief from sanctions as a gradual step toward denuclearization. There is a wide gap between both governments’ positions, and the reality is that there isn’t even consensus on the definition of “denuclearization.”

Trump said that he will soon begin talks between American and North Korean officials well-versed in practical matters. He needs to arrange a series of practical discussions based on the lessons of his past failures.

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