Trump-Kim Summit Sequel Flops, Plunging US-DPRK Relations into a New Unknown

Drawing a connection between the failure of the second Trump-Kim summit and the simultaneous bombshell testimony of former Trump ‘fixer’ Michael Cohen may otherwise be considered a stretch if not for the fact that Trump himself tweeted that it “may have contributed to the ‘walk.’”

‘The walk’ he’s referring to is leaving before the summit was completed, apparently due to the North’s insistence on full sanction relief in exchange for verifiable – though partial – denuclearization.

A few takeaways:

  • The walk out isn’t why the summit should be viewed as a failure. If the best deal on offer wasn’t a good deal – which is to be assumed given what we know of the process – then it’s better to walk away than to compromise US interests. The failure was to engage in summit pageantry in the first place, especially when there’s no real indication that Pyongyang has a genuine desire for denuclearization. All Trump’s talk of North Korea wanting to become an economically powerful (rehabilitated) state is more wishful thinking than anything.
  • The North Korea situation was militarily and diplomatically intractable before Trump came into office, and it will remain so after he departs.
  • The post-summit press conference by the North Korea delegation was a noteworthy development. In it, the North Korean foreign minister contradicted Trump’s account of the North insisting on full sanction relief for partial denuclearization. According to Ri Yong Ho: “If the US removes partial sanctions… we will permanently and completely dismantle all the nuclear material production facilities.” Both President Trump and the DPRK regime are known to play loose with the facts, so it’s hard to know which side is telling the truth. A misunderstanding is also always possible, one of the risks of working out sprawling and intricate problems over the course of just two days. However, if the DPRK is actively trying to distort the US government position, it would represent a new strategy to game the English media sphere to their own political advantage. Compared to countries like China and Russia, they’re a bit late to the party, but Pyongyang has proven a quick learner in the past.
  • This phase of US-DPRK diplomacy is not over. It’s easy to foresee a situation where the DPRK comes back with a new offer – whether substantially new or not – and Trump re-engages, portraying ‘the walk’ as a deft negotiating tactic that won the day. South Korean President Moon Jae-in is believed to be already lobbying both sides to get back to the table and carry on the negotiation process.