Future of US-DPRK talks depend on Trump’s actions

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stand on the North Korean side of the DMZ in Panmujom on June 30
President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stand on the North Korean side of the DMZ in Panmujom on June 30. Image: Rodong Sinmun

The recent meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was only possible because of the US president. On Twitter, Trump had proposed that the two leaders meet at the DMZ. Such a meeting would have been out of the question if following diplomatic norms. Trump is not part of the American political elite; he is an outsider and his thinking differs from past American presidents. South Korean President Moon Jae-in also joined the meeting, making it the first time leaders from all three countries met in the same place.

Until this point, many people had hoped the leaders from the two Koreas, the US and China could meet together, believing that talks focused on creating peace on the Korean Peninsula could move forward if all major countries involved in the Korean War announced the end of the war at Panmunjom. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun tried to accomplish this during the latter part of his presidency, but failed.

However, what looked insurmountable was, in the end, easily accomplished. The meeting happened just two days after Trump’s tweet. We might have just been thinking it was just too hard when in fact it was quite simple.

Will it end the US-DPRK stalemate?

The historic meeting between the leaders of the US and North Korea, however, is not guaranteed to break the stalemate between the two countries. Despite Kim and Trump’s agreement to restart negotiations, there’s no sign that the surprise meeting, which garnered significant international attention, will actually resolve the primary issues the two sides face.

The Americans have been talking about a “flexible response” to North Korea, but the gap between the two countries is still wide: the US wants total denuclearization while the North Koreans have not offered to dismantle any nuclear facility outside Yongbyon. There’s no evidence that North Korea has changed its fundamental stance that can be summed up as: “[They] won’t move until you [the US] do.”

The two leaders, however, have agreed to restart negotiations and there remains a possibility that working-level negotiators will strive hard to find a compromise. North Korea hasn’t been particularly active in working-level negotiations; when it sends a negotiator to the negotiation table, that counts as progress. If the two sides are willing to talk, ideas may flow back and forth on how to reach a compromise.

An unclear future ahead

The powerful image of the two leaders meeting at Panmunjom has led to hopes that denuclearization talks will head in a positive direction. It’s still too early, however, to make any firm judgement. We will have to wait and see what kind of positions the two sides take at working-level negotiations, which will most likely take place in July. We will need to differentiate between the “images” shown to us and “the reality” on the ground.

Trump has opened the door to continued bilateral negotiations, which had reached a stalemate. Many people criticize the manic way Trump conducts diplomacy, but critics do have to acknowledge the US President’s creativity to bring about this recent meeting.

But will Trump’s creativity lead to any real progress in US-DPRK negotiations? Trump’s actions restarted talks, but the negotiations face many hurdles because of this same US president. In the end, we just don’t know what direction the talks will take.

*Views expressed in Guest Columns do not necessarily reflect those of Daily NK.