On May 24, U.S. President Donald Trump cancelled his planned June 12 meeting in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The cancellation came just two weeks after the summit meeting was announced, and shortly after North Korea’s destruction of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.
In a letter addressed to Chairman Kim Jong Un, President Trump writes, “Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting.”
“North Korea in particular, has lost a great opportunity for lasting peace and great prosperity and wealth. This missed opportunity is a truly sad moment in history,” the letter adds.
Addressing Kim Jong Un directly, it continues, “You talk about nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.” The intent appears to be to demonstrate that the United States will not tolerate North Korea’s nuclear development or provocations.
But the letter does not shut down the possibility of a summit. It says, “If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write.” It opens the window to a U.S.-North Korea summit at any time, on the condition that North Korea is willing to denuclearize.
The reason why President Trump decided to suddenly cancel the summit could be because the U.S. is still unable to verify that North Korea is in fact willing and ready to denuclearize.
In 2016, Chairman Kim used a Party Conference to announce that the fulfillment of the Byungjin Strategy requires improvement with regional nations. North Korea asserted itself as a nuclear power, and then embarked upon efforts to improve its economy, requesting summits with South Korea and the U.S. This was a long-term strategy aimed at convincing the world to loosen up on economic sanctions through a multistep process: First, achieve success (to some degree) in terms of long range missiles and nuclear weapons development. Next, proclaim that the North is a nuclear power. Finally, call forth negotiations from the position of being an established nuclear power.
The US position is that North Korea needs to declare all of its nuclear materials and production facilities, test sites, and related documents to clarify that it intends to denuclearize. In a summit with North Korea, the U.S. will probably attempt to get some of this language into a signed agreement.
The North has resisted this type of denuclearization as one-sided. The North did destroy the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site, and even called in foreign journalists to witness it. But the most important aspect has been intentionally overlooked. If Kim really had the desire to denuclearize, he would have invited nuclear experts, shown them the destruction of the testing facility, and provided information relevant to the process and the facility.
But none of these steps were taken, and nuclear experts were not invited to witness any of these important procedures. North Korean officials also failed to show up to working-level meetings with their US counterparts in Singapore.
North Korean residents, more than anything else, are looking for an escape from poverty. To achieve this, North Korea must denuclearize. It is a basic right of all North Koreans to have the opportunity to work hard and provide for their families. The North needs to enter into working level talks with the U.S., and put on the table a report describing all of its nuclear materials, weapons, testing sites, facilities, and documents, etc. Missing an opportunity to embark upon a journey towards peace and prosperity is not simply foolish, it is a crime of historic proportions.