For the third time in history, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in will hold a summit on Friday, April 27. The rare meeting that will happen at a village on the border between the two countries, will culminate the rapprochement process kicked off during the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games held in February after years of tensions.
Jenny Town, assistant director at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins SAIS, U.S., and managing editor of 38 North website, specialized on analysis of the situation in North Korea, explains what to expect from the summit, and how it could influence the likelihood of talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.
Q: Why did it become possible for Kim Jong-un to meet both Moon and Trump?
–Jenny Town, assistant director at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins SAIS, U.S. and editor of 38 North: By declaring last year and in his New Year’s speech victory in achieving his state nuclear force, Kim Jong Un likely now feels very confident in dealing with the international community, coming to the table in a position of strategic parity with the big powers. He can now also shift focus on his “Byungjin” policy of dual nuclear and economic development to the economic side of the equation, having achieved the nuclear goal, for which he does need to repair relations with the international community to facilitate economic development. He can also now make diplomatic concessions on the parts of his WMD program dealing with, for instance, technological development (testing regimes and infrastructure) and fissile material production, that won’t fundamentally change the North’s nuclear capabilities, leaving the most substantive parts for the latter part of the process.
Q: So, the hydrogen bomb has changed Kim’s strategy?
–Town: The demonstration of the H-bomb (or at least high yield boosted fission bomb) and the successful flight test of the Hwasong-15 ICBM seem to have been the final pieces of Kim’s definition of a credible nuclear deterrent against the United States, and enough for him to declare his program as complete. This essentially closed the door on the development phase of the nuclear deterrent – especially the need for testing and demonstration of technologies/capabilities – which then, in turn, opens the door more diplomatic postures.
Q: How reliable is Kim?
– I think you could ask this of any government especially as the U.S. threatens to pull out of a number of international agreements. But essentially, this is why, in any agreement, there needs to be explicit detail and robust verification measures built in.
Q: What can we expect from the Korea meetings?
– I think there is probably a lot of ground that could be covered in the summit meetings. No one is going to walk about with a comprehensive, detailed agreement. That’s not the purpose of summits. But they should be seeking firm commitments to mutually agreeable goals, with a common understanding of timing and phasing going forward. This will create the mandate that can then be handed down to working level negotiators to work out the details.
Q: Will the North and South Korea’s summit be successful?
– I am concerned, especially with some of the hype about pre-summit discussions coming out of Seoul, that expectations of what can and should be accomplished in the summit meeting are unrealistically high. At the same time, I am more optimistic than most that the two will come to some kind of understanding on both the nuclear issue and a path toward normalizing relations can be found, given both leaders’ need for a diplomatic win.