Kim-Trump meet: easy part’s done

Few first meetings between leaders of two hostile countries have gone as well as the summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un in Singapore on Tuesday. Of course, expectations were very low in the run-up to the meeting. Few expected the two leaders, both known to be erratic and notorious for their lack of diplomatic skills, to pull off the summit. Indeed, there were doubts that the meeting would happen; Trump had called it off a little over a week before it happened. Still, it is hard to deny that the summit was a success. Bilateral relations have thawed markedly after the Kim-Trump meeting. The two countries, which were threatening each other with nuclear war only a few months ago, have pulled back. Under an agreement signed at the summit, Kim and Trump pledged to build “new relations”. Importantly, Kim committed “to work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.” After the summit, Trump said that the US will halt its “war games” with South Korea. The announcement has taken Washington’s allies in East Asia by surprise. While he should have consulted them before making this announcement, the move itself is welcome as military exercises in the region have always triggered serious tension.

The summit was the easy part. Now comes the more challenging task of taking the peace process forward. There is little in the agreement that clarifies what the next steps will be. It does not spell out what ‘complete denuclearisation’ means and how it will be achieved. There is no time-table laid out either. The agreement’s silence on the scope of denuclearisation and the verification procedure can be expected to trigger arguments and allegations in the coming weeks and months. Some have criticised the agreement for not mentioning North Korea’s dismal human rights accord. While this is an important issue, raising it at the start of a dialogue could have derailed the process. 

Kim and Trump did well to take the bold step of engaging in talks. However, the contribution of South Korean President Moon Jae-in must not be forgotten. It was his determined outreach to the North Korean leader and the patience he displayed all these months that made the US-North Korea rapprochement possible. It is important that the US and North Korea keep other major powers in the loop, especially South Korea, Japan, Russia and China. Till recently, Beijing was Pyongyang’s only friend. It has been side-lined somewhat in recent weeks. An inclusive process of consultation and dialogue with key powers is necessary for the talks to translate into lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.

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Kim-Trump meet: easy part’s done

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