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Analysis

For Trump, North Korea Talks Simply a Play Card

Sunday 24 February 2019
For Trump, North Korea Talks Simply a Play Card

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Alwaght- The second meeting between the US President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is scheduled to be held Tuesday and Wednesday in Vietnam. The US media reported, citing senior White House officials, the two leaders will not discuss the American forces’ withdrawal from the Korean Peninsula and they will focus on reaching a shared notion on denuclearization of the Peninsula. The issue has pushed the experts to doubt a constructive outcome from the forthcoming meeting. This gives rise to some questions. What is Trump’s real goal of the bilateral? Will Pyongyang be ready to denuclearize without being given the demanded concessions?

Singapore summit’s ambiguities

The meeting in Singapore, held in June 2018, took place in the atmosphere of political gestures. Any obvious agreement that would specify the US commitments did not come out of the summit and there was no clear timetable for implementation of the two sides’ commitments. Following the meeting, the US took some small steps. For example, it scaled down its pre-planned military drills with the South Korean army, a move largely considered a show and serving the US interests as the drills are highly expensive and need time-taking security preparations. On the other side, the North suspended its missile tests and since then did not conduct nuclear tests. This is all of what Trump after the meeting called a great achievement.

Aside from the intimate comments of the leaders, in a deeper layer of the politics the two sides’ definition of the denuclearization differs. According to Trump’s comments, the US seeks “complete, verifiable, and irreversible disarmament” of North Korea before the sanctions lifting. On Sunday, Secretary of State Pompeo said no sanctions relief until North Korea disarms.

“The American people should know we have the toughest economic sanctions that have ever been placed on North Korea, and we won’t release that pressure until such time as we’re confident we’ve substantially reduced that risk,” Pompeo told NBC’s Today show.

On the opposite side, the North has demanded full exit of US forces from the Peninsula, adding that scrapping its nuclear arms will be step by step and along with US-presented privileges.

Trump administration’s top diplomats said they have more than one reason to doubt Kim was committed to a nuclear arms-free North Korea, as the East Asian nation still has nuclear warheads and missiles and reserves the capability to enrich bomb-scale uranium and plutonium. Stephen Biegun, the US special envoy to North Korea talks, said on Saturday that North Korea has to deliver a list of its nuclear assets before they could proceed with talks to seal a deal. Some reports talk about North Korea having 16 undisclosed missile sites. The analysts are surprised to see Trump ignorant of the reports. This indicates that Trump has no exact blueprint for the negotiations management.

US regional allies

If Washington decides to considerably cut its troops and military assets in the region, it has to have an acceptable justification for South Korea and Japan, two of its regional allies. Currently, some 27,000 American troops are stationed in South Korea camps. Trump’s comments about the US presence in South Korea being costly has left the Seoul leaders’ worried. Kim Tao, former head of South Korea Institute for National Unity, in recent remarks said that the US-South Korea alliance was now “seriously ill.” But Trump’s aim behind the withdrawal comments is to make economic profits. In a speech, Trump said that if Seoul and Tokyo decline to pay their protection costs, the US will move out of the two Asian states.

Addressing the pressures, Japan has recently bought a US radar system. A couple of months ago, Tokyo bought a large number of F-35 fighter jets and long-range missiles from the US. It also signed a $2 billion contract with the US to develop a radar site on its soil.

The collection of these measures have given rise to Pyongyang worries. With regard to the sensitivity of Japan and South Korea for the US and their role in the cheap US presence in the Peninsula, Washington does not intend to leave the region presently, something negatively impacting the Trump-Kim’s meeting results.

US-China Interests encounter

The key drive for the American military deployment to the region is curbing the increasing Chinese power gain. The hypersonic new Chinese missiles, referred to in new US intelligence communities’ reports, can penetrate the US sea and land-based radar systems which means the US has little time to defend itself. So, the Americans need missiles close to China borders for a quick response to possible Chinese attacks, as the sea-based missile detection systems are not as quick and precise as the land-based ones.

The US will prolong the North Korean crisis for an array of reasons including blackmailing its regional allies and mainly containing China. On the other side, China, a staunch opponent of the US presence in East Asia, remains committed to pushing to success the Vietnam summit. Kim Yong Chol, North Korea’s envoy to the nuclear talks, on Saturday traveled to Beijing for talks there. Kim will travel to Vietnam through land route crossing China. Despite the fact that the Chinese support diplomatic solution to the crisis, they are not necessarily for the content of the negotiations.

Although Trump and his National Security Advisor John Bolton promise ending the possibility of war by “historic” agreements, the North’s disarmament does not seem feasible by words and at best it will take several years to complete. In the past, the Republicans reversed former President Bill Clinton’s agreements with North Korea under the excuse of the US being blackmailed by Pyongyang. Ukraine’s denuclearization, as an example, took five years despite firm security guarantees.

Even if Trump announces the end of North Korea’s nuclear crisis, a set of essential interests of the US that make the American military presence a must for the White House make the announcement not more than a show. After all, Washington’s long-term strategy to curb China builds on military deployment in the Peninsula.

Trump seeks personal interests to strengthen himself against the Democrats on the one hand and to satisfy his regional allies on the other hand. China wants the US out of the region and to change the course of the trade war. And North Korea eyes an end to the embargo, economic growth, and credible security guarantees. So, it seems that Pyongyang is a piece in the Washington-Beijing game of interests. Each move and real change is made very cautiously and the game is far from ending with Vietnam meeting.

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