TOKYO (AP)– With their second summit quick approaching, speculation is growing that U.S. President Donald Trump might try to persuade North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to commit to denuclearization by offering him something he wants more than nearly anything else: a statement of peace and an end to the Korean War.
Such an announcement could make history. It would be best in line with Trump’s opposition to “forever wars.” And, coming more than six decades after the combating essentially ended, it just looks like common sense.
However, if not done carefully, it might open an entire brand-new set of problems for Washington.
Here’s why changing the focus of the continuous talks in between Pyongyang and Washington from denuclearization to peace would be a dangerous move– and why it might be precisely what Kim wants when the 2 leaders satisfy in Hanoi on Feb. 27-28
The Korean Peninsula was divided at the 38 th parallel after World War II, with the U.S. claiming a zone of impact in the south and the Soviet Union in the north. Within 5 years, the two Koreas were at war.
Though the shooting dropped in 1953, the dispute ended with an armistice, basically a cease-fire signed by North Korea, China and the 17- country, U.S.-led United Nations Command that was expected to be replaced by a formal peace treaty. However both sides rather settled ever deeper into Cold War hostilities marked by occasional outbreaks of violence.
The dispute in Korea is technically America’s longest war.
North Korea, which saw all of its significant cities and the majority of its facilities destroyed by U.S. bombers throughout the war, blames what it sees as Washington’s relentless hostility over the past 70 years as adequate validation for its nuclear weapons and long-range rockets. It claims they are purely for self-defense.
The U.S., on the other hand, keeps a heavy military presence in South Korea to counter what it states is the North’s objective to get into and take in the South. It has actually also executed a long-standing policy of ostracizing the North and backing economic sanctions.
Trump intensified the effort to squeeze the North with a “maximum pressure” strategy that stays in force.
A combination of that strategy and the North’s duplicated tests of missiles believed capable of providing its nuclear weapons to the U.S. mainland are what brought the 2 countries to the negotiating table.
WHY KIM DESIRES A TREATY
Getting a formal peace treaty has actually been high up on the dream list of every North Korean leader, starting with Kim Jong Un’s grandpa, Kim Il Sung.
A peace treaty would bring global acknowledgment, most likely at least some easing of trade sanctions, and a likely reduction in the variety of U.S. troops south of the Demilitarized Zone.
If done right, it would be a substantial boost to Kim’s track record in the house and abroad. And, naturally, to the cause of peace on the Korean Peninsula at a time when Pyongyang says it is trying to move limited resources far from defense so that it can boost its standard of living and modernize its economy with a greater focus on science and technology.
Washington has a lot to get, too.
Trump has said he would welcome a North Korea that is more focused on trade and economic growth. Stability on the peninsula is excellent for South Korea’s economy and probably for Japan’s too.
Though Trump hasn’t stressed out human rights, eased tensions might develop the space needed for the North to loosen its controls over political and specific flexibilities.
However it’s ignorant to expect North Korea to suddenly alter its methods.
According to a current estimate, it has more than the past year continued to expand its nuclear stockpile. And even as it has actually stepped up its diplomatic overtures to the outdoors world, Pyongyang has actually doubled down internally as needed loyalty to its totalitarian system.
PEACE OR APPEASEMENT?
After his first top with Kim, in Singapore last June, Trump stated the nuclear danger was over.
He isn’t saying that anymore.
Trump made no reference of the word “denuclearization” throughout his State of the Union address. Rather, he called his effort a “historical push for peace on the Korean Peninsula” and worried that Kim hasn’t conducted any recent nuclear or missile tests and has actually released Americans who had actually been jailed in the North and returned the remains of dozens of Americans killed in the war.
Kim, on the other hand, has great reason to wish to turn his tops with Trump into “peace talks.”
The most significant win for the North would be to get a peace statement while silently abandoning denuclearization altogether, or by concurring to production caps or other steps that would restrict, however not remove, its nuclear arsenal. Simply having a top without a clear dedication to denuclearization goes a long way towards establishing him as the leader of a de facto nuclear state.
Unless Washington wants to accept him as such, that will just make future talks all the more hard.
The U.S. has, nevertheless, continued to take a difficult line in lower-level settlements leading up to the summit.
Stephen Biegun, Trump’s brand-new point guy on North Korea, stressed in a recent speech that as a prerequisite for peace, Washington wants a “total understanding of the complete degree of the North Korean weapons of mass damage rocket programs,” expert access and monitoring of crucial websites and, ultimately, “the elimination and damage of stockpiles of fissile product, weapons, rockets, launchers, and other weapons of mass damage.”
The question is whether Trump will similarly challenge Kim or select a simpler and splashier– but less substantive– statement of peace.
TALK VS TREATY
If he chose to do so, Trump might unilaterally reveal completion of the Korean War.
It would be terrific TV. However it would not always indicate all that much.
Trump can’t by himself conclude an actual peace treaty. China, and possibly an agent of the U.N. Command, would need to be involved. South Korea would naturally wish to be at the table. The U.S. Senate would have to validate whatever they developed.
Back in 1993, the administration of President Costs Clinton reached a familiar-sounding agreement with Pyongyang “to achieve peace and security on a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.”
The next year the two sides vowed to decrease barriers to trade and financial investment, open an intermediary workplace in the other’s capital and make progress toward updating bilateral relations to the ambassadorial level. In 2000, Clinton and Kim’s daddy, Kim Jong Il, added a guarantee “of regard for each other’s sovereignty and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.”
However by 2002, George W. Bush was back to calling the North part of an “axis of evil.” In 2006, North Korea evaluated its first nuclear device.
The lesson? Whatever grand proclamations are made, establishing genuine peace will work out beyond just another Trump and Kim summit.
However it could be a start.
Talmadge has been the AP’s Pyongyang bureau chief because2013 Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @EricTalmadge.