For the first time since the de facto end of the Korean war, the leader of North Korea crossed the demarcation line on the DMZ and met with Moon Jae In, the South Korean president, elected in 2017 on a platform emphasizing his push for detente with the North. A striking set of images were captured, as the two men, smiling, met, walked and talked alone.
North Korea’s Kim Jong Un declared “a new history begins now” after meeting South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the start of a landmark peace summit. Kim became the first North Korean leader to step into South Korean territory since 1953 on Friday, crossing the line that separates the two Koreas at the demilitarized zone (DMZ). (?: Korea Summit Press Pool/AFP/Getty)
With the change in both party and leader in South Korea, and the rise of Kim Jong Un, who assumed power in late 2011, what previously seemed unthinkable has come to fruition as the two leaders have finally met in person, with both taking the symbolic step, back-and-forth across the demarcation line, breaking the decades long divide.
The meeting included signatures on a draft paper, dubbed the Panmunjom Declaration, agreeing to a set of goals, with final details to be determined later. It has left many, even hawks from the US and South Korea, hopeful that North Korea can be successfully denuclearized. The agreement called for the reunification of families split up by the Korean war, and the full nuclear disarmament of the Korean peninsula.
What this agreement eventually yields remains to be seen, but in the meantime, American president Donald Trump has already prematurely taken responsibility for the summit after the 16 months of bellicose rhetoric in which Trump himself oversaw North Korea’s final development of ICBMs capable of hitting the US. It is often the nature of this author to present objective truths, but the American president’s words and actions reflect a clear falsehood, and this needs to called out. This behavior is predictable, and underlies a brittle psyche, the epitome of weakness, moral degredation, and an inferiority complex. This is neither the first, nor last time, the president will take credit for positive developments that have little to do with him, or disavow the disastrous consequences of his very short list of accomplishments.
Here is why any claims for credit due to Trump are farcical:
The North has what it wants, and the few things that it still needs, it can get from a deal. The North wanted regime stability, in terms of a preventative measure that could be used during an international invasion. They have already developed that, and any arrangement may still even allow them to retain some of their weapons and equipment, and undoubtedly, they will keep the technology and know-how they have compiled on nuclear development and ICBMs, including the significant developments made during the past year, which in fact occurred under Trump’s watch. To promote internal stability, the North needs an end to the sanctions regime, a diversification of aid from more countries than simply China, which holds them in a noose, and perhaps, they even desire the foreign investment. These can all be achieved through a denuclearization deal. This says nothing about problems they may have with their nuclear test sites, material shortages, or potential espionage that has halted or damaged their existing program which may have pushed their willingness to suspend.
Further, Trump personally claims that the “maximum pressure,” which amounts to a rhetorically identical sanctions regime to those that have been in place for decades already, was assisted by his “good friend” Xi Jin Ping. One one hand, Xi Jin Ping has his own reasons for wanting to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, having little to do with either the notion of some juvenile friendship with Trump, or his administration’s policies in general. On the other hand, if their so-called friendship is so strong, then why does China continue to defy the US on every other issue imaginable, recently humiliating the US in the US Security council, continuing to build islands and militarizing the South China sea in contravention of ICC rulings, and maintaining a trade regime that Trump himself deems unfair. The logical links are all missing.
Secondly, Moon’s campaign to reconcile with the North long predated Trump’s claim that he had ever pushed for detente. Moon’s parents were refugees, originally from North Korea, and settled in the South building a new life, perhaps contributing to Moon’s sympathy for the Northerners who would have been devastated in a war. The notion that Trump played any part in moving towards detente is only true as of the last couple of months, during which he has, under Tillerson and Pompeo, sent officials from his administration, but only in tandem and coordination counterparts from the South.
Thirdly, since his election, Trump has taken the exact opposite line on the Korean issue, frequently threatening nuclear war, and stating that diplomacy was not only fruitless, but downright foolish. He publicly derided his own Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, for his efforts for diplomacy, saying at one point that it was a waste of time. At no point for the first year of his administration did he ever admit he would consider working diplomatically working with North Korea, only apparently considering this solution after he realized that he was neutered by the American responsibility to protect the South, and therefore powerless to preemptively attack the North.
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2018
I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man…
…Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2017
Perhaps even more destructively, he also drove a deep wedge between himself and South Korea, publicly blasting Moon for “appeasement” for trying to work diplomatically with the North.
South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2017
There was ample reporting at the time that this was also straining relations between the United States and South Korea, with Trump apparently using threats of renegotiating the US-SK trade agreement to try to force Moon towards Trump’s push for isolation of the North.
Notwithstanding these efforts, Moon persisted, as well as the members of the US State Department who continued to assist in the push for a diplomatic opening with the North. Only after the North agreed to a meet did Trump publicly begin to change his perspective, all the while never admitting any change in policy ever took place, and then finally taking responsibility for its early fruits.
Trump deserves absolutely no credit, especially for a deal not yet reached. Further, he should be kept out negotiations for any final arrangement. He will never admit fault, only pivot to make it seem as though he supported this all along, of which there is innumerable evidence to the contrary, and which he has not even bothered to delete off of his personal twitter account. This makes him a very dangerous figure to have at the negotiating table when any final arrangement is being worked out, as his threats regarding the Iran deal, Nafta, the TPP, and NATO make clear that the United States under his administration has no respect for the agreements that its own government produces.
This author has previously stated that the world should give no material aid to the regime for weapons that the regime itself chose to develop in contravention of international norms. At the moment, that argument seems wrong, and it appears that if there is a credible chance for a durable peace, then it should be pushed for in the meantime.
Cautious optimism should be exercised when considering the prospect of the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. What should be clear though, is that the dangerous doublespeak and lack of solidity in any aspect of his foreign policy means that the United States, while playing a role in the negotiations, should only be an auxiliary player. The US should not try to hijack any agreement to be drafted, and all players should tread carefully with regards to the dangerous volatility displayed by the American president, and his potential to eventually abrogate the agreement upon some perceived personal sleight.
This is a dangerous time for the world, appearances aside, and hopefully, cooler heads will prevail.
Staff writer: Ari B