Tuesday 22 May 2018

What would success look like at the Korea summit meeting?

Kim Jong Un’s encounter with Moon Jae-in is a breakthrough in itself after heightened tension over North Korea’s nuclear programme.

Four North Korean soldiers, centre far, and four South Korean soldiers, right and left, stand at the border village of Panmunjom (Hwang Kwang-mo/AP)
Four North Korean soldiers, centre far, and four South Korean soldiers, right and left, stand at the border village of Panmunjom (Hwang Kwang-mo/AP)

By Foster Klug

The leaders of North and South Korea will have plenty to talk about when they meet.

The summit talks between Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in are seen as a breakthrough after Pyongyang’s nuclear tests raised tensions on the peninsula.

The summit is also seen as an icebreaker for an eventual meeting between Mr Kim and Donald Trump, which has been pencilled in for May or June.

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(PA Graphics)

The Cold War stand-off between the two Koreas has lasted since the ceasefire in 1953, but Friday’s meeting will see both leaders speak face to face about the problems.

– What is the goal of the summit and what would be considered a success?

Some sort of progress on nuclear weapons, even it falls short of a “breakthrough”, headlines the list, but there is also, from the North Korean perspective, the problem of nearly 30,000 heavily armed US troops stationed in the South, and the failure to agree on a peace treaty formally ending the war.

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The meeting room where the summit will take place (AP)

The North says that creates the hostility that makes its own nuclear weapons necessary.

– How has diplomacy taken centre stage after a long-running bout of name-calling between Mr Trump and Mr Kim?

Mr Moon, a liberal who cut his political teeth as a lead architect of a previous government’s “sunshine policy” of engagement with North Korea, came into office last year hoping for better ties with the North.

Instead, one of the most heated North Korean weapons-testing outbursts in recent memory forced him to follow Washington in ramping up pressure on the North.

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Activists wearing masks of South Korea's Mr Moon, left, and North Korea's Mr Kim who are due to meet face to face (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

Then, in January, Mr Kim began a charm offensive by declaring that North Korea had “achieved the goal of completing our state nuclear force” and opening the door to diplomacy.

Analysts believe that North Korean technicians still have some work to do to make this a fact, but the important thing, from Mr Moon’s viewpoint, was the shift to engagement.

– How did this engagement get under way?

The Olympic Games in the South Korean mountain resort of Pyeongchang in February provided the perfect backdrop for that diplomacy to flourish.

Mr Kim sent his sister to Pyeongchang with a summit invitation for Mr Moon, and the two Koreas marched together at the opening ceremony and formed a single women’s ice hockey team.

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Kim Yo Jong, left, sister of North Korean leader Mr Kim, shakes hands with South Korea's Mr Moon at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang (Patrick Semansky/AP)

During a visit by a high-level South Korean official to North Korea, Mr Kim reportedly announced that he would not need nuclear weapons if his government’s security could be guaranteed and external threats were removed.

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North Korea’s Hwang Chung Gum and South Korea’s Won Yun-jong carry the unification flag during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics (Jae C. Hong/AP)

He also reportedly offered to meet with Mr Trump and stop weapons testing as the diplomacy plays out.

After learning from South Korea of Mr Kim’s offer to meet, Mr Trump shocked the world by accepting.

– Where is the meeting happening?

Mr Kim does not have far to travel and will not be out of his comfort zone as he becomes the first of the three family rulers to cross the border since the Korean War.

To get to the South Korean-controlled Peace House on the southern side of the demilitarised zone, in the border village of Panmunjom, Mr Kim will walk across the border, and then inspect with Mr Moon a South Korean honour guard, near the spot where a defecting North Korean soldier recently fled south in a hail of bullets fired by his former comrades.

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A man watches the North side from the unification observatory in Paju, South Korea (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

Panmunjom is about 30 miles north of Seoul and the site of the signing of the armistice that ended fighting in 1953, but not the war, which technically continues to this day.

Staging the summit there gives Mr Moon a bit of a home advantage, but the South Korean president seems intent on making sure Mr Kim feels at ease, and has kept most of the media far away.

– Who wants what?

North Korea may want to use its new nuclear muscle, and the legitimacy it believes a meeting with Mr Trump will bestow, to win a peace treaty that ends the Korean War and eventually drives US forces off the Korean Peninsula.

It presumably hopes that will pave the way, in time, for a unified Korea that is led by the North and is beholden to neither the United States nor China.

That is one strain of thinking for the North’s long-term dream, anyway.

Under current circumstances it is not likely that Washington would leave, given the bloodshed that occurred the last time North Korea thought there was a vacuum of power on the peninsula in 1950 and invaded the South.

We are preparing to take the leading role in a great transition in world history, a complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, the establishment of a permanent peace and the sustainable development of relations between the South and North Moon Jae-in

In the short term, the sceptical argument goes that if the North can dangle disarmament in a series of meetings that follows these two summits, it could win more time, and an easing of crippling sanctions, to push forward in perfecting its weapons, while also collecting aid and concessions for nuclear promises that will never be met.

Seoul, on the other hand, wants to control the process, especially after the last year, when Mr Trump repeatedly threatened a war that would overwhelmingly kill Koreans.

“We are preparing to take the leading role in a great transition in world history, a complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, the establishment of a permanent peace and the sustainable development of relations between the South and North,” Mr Moon said recently.

– Could they get a deal?

It is very unlikely that Mr Kim is ready to give up his nuclear weapons, the benchmark for any real breakthrough on the Korean Peninsula.

Mr Kim has portrayed his nation as finally being able, after years of suffering, to meet the United States as a nuclear equal.

But there are other measurements of success, and proponents of engagement say you’ll never know what is possible until you sit down and talk.

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The shape of the Korean Peninsula is seen on a lawn (Lee Jin-man/AP)

Already the Koreas have set up a leaders’ hotline, a big deal for countries that still spend a lot of time either not talking, aside from war threats, or communicating by fax.

One possible “get” could be if North Korea offers to freeze its weapons as a first step toward denuclearisation, according to Robert Manning, a former US State Department official, and James Przystup, with the US National Defence University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies.

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A North Korean flag flutters in the wind (Lee Jin-man/AP)

But, they wrote, Seoul and Washington must make clear that any freeze needs to come with unfettered UN inspections and visible dismantling of the North’s nuclear infrastructure.

South Korea acknowledged the most difficult part of the summit will be negotiating North Korea’s level of denuclearisation commitment.

Ralph Cossa, a Koreas expert and president of the Pacific Forum CSIS think tank, is sceptical of any real breakthrough.

The talks with Seoul are merely “a vehicle for pressuring Washington to talk”, he said in an email.

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A woman puts a sign carrying messages wishing the peace of the two Koreas on a map of the Korean peninsula in Seoul, South Korea (Lee Jin-man/AP)

“From North Korea’s perspective, the US meeting is the real prize.

“Just holding the meeting enhances Kim Jong Un’s legitimacy.”

Simply getting Mr Kim in front of the world’s cameras on South Korean-controlled territory could prove valuable.

The recent visit by South Korea’s envoys to Pyongyang that set up the meeting with Mr Trump “has already told us more about Mr Kim than we have learned over the past six years”, Siegfried Hecker, the former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and a frequent visitor to North Korea’s nuclear facilities, said on the Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists webpage.

He said: “It moved us at least one step away from the nuclear brink.”

Press Association

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