The Singapore Summit: A Good Beginning

trump kim4

Confounding his critics and an army of pundits who were confidently predicting an unsuccessful summit, President Trump has demonstrated that his deal-making approach can deliver results in an area where patient, plodding, conventional, hesitant diplomacy has signally failed.

Trump deserves all credit for the historic success of his summit with DPRK’s Chairman Kim Jung Un. Equally, Kim also deserves full credit. The Western media that had for long demonized him had wrongly speculated that the young Kim, 34, would not be able to hold his own while meeting Trump who can be intimidating.  Kim held his head high and Trump was at his charming best. It looked as though Trump had left his bad temper in Canada and he was so relieved to apply his mind to resolving the Korean conundrum which successive US presidents have signally failed to address or even understand holistically.

We shall first try to figure out, cutting through  the diplomatic jargon, what was agreed upon in Singapore, based on the signed joint statement and Trump’s subsequent press conference.

First, Washington and Pyongyang have agreed to put an end to the long chapter of hostility going back to the Korean War of 1950-53. That war marked the beginning of the Cold War. Though the Cold War collapsed definitively by demise of the USSR in 1990-91, the 76 million Koreans in the divided Korea have not stopped suffering from that war. The Trump-Kim decision is to embark on a path of normalization of their relations.

Second, the two sides will jointly work to build a ‘lasting and stable peace’ in the Korean peninsula. In short, there will be a peace treaty formally ending the Korean War replacing the armistice of 1953.

Third, Pyongyang reiterated its commitment contained in the April 27 Panmunjom declaration with Seoul to “work towards complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula.

Fourth, Pyongyang agreed to permit Washington to recover and take to US the mortal remains of US soldiers who died in the Korean War. About 6,000 families in US have been wanting to see the mortal remains of their loved ones.

Fifth, Pyongyang will destroy an important missile testing centre as a gesture of good will though this is not mentioned in the joint statement.

Sixth, US will stop military exercises that have in the past raised the level of tension.

Last but not the least is that both sides will start implementing what was agreed upon with a sense of dispatch and the two leaders will meet again.

Trump has been unfairly criticized by some media pundits who were looking for the words “complete, verifiable, and irreversible disarmament “a formula used by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before the summit as one of the key demands of Washington. Any one conversant with the ground realities of international diplomacy would have known that any such demand put upfront would have been a non-starter. There is a fundamental misunderstanding that need to be cleared up here. The Western pundits who believe that Kim sought the summit mainly because he wanted to get rid of the asphyxiating sanctions have got it wrong. Of course, the sanctions do hurt in a big way. But, the primary reason for Kim’s move is that having concluded the missile and nuclear tests he has demonstrated his nuclear-weapon capability and he does not need to conduct more tests. Senator Diane Feinstein , a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has said that Pyongyang probably has 50 to 60 nuclear weapons and the missile capability to deliver a  war head in the US, perhaps not with much accuracy.

President Trump who tweeted for months abusing Kim by calling him ‘the little rocket man” did consider for a while military action against DPRK. Eventually, Defence Secretary Mattis and others convinced him of the danger of initiating hostilities risking the lives of 29,000 of US military personnel and of hundreds of thousands of the South Koreans living in Seoul so close to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) within the range of DPRK’s artillery shells. Trump also has his eyes on a Nobel Peace Prize.

Trump’s critics who hark back to the 1994 agreement with DPRK that was aborted and argue on that basis that Kim cannot be trusted are woefully imprisoned in the past and are  unable to appreciate the realities of 2018.   The 1994 agreement was to stop DPRK’s use of reactors capable of producing plutonium and in exchange US was to supply fuel oil and to lift long standing sanctions though this was not specifically spelt out.  After the agreement was signed, President Clinton’s Democratic party lost control of the Senate and the Republicans stood in the way of Washington’s fulfilling its obligations.

There is another deplorable confusion of thought among some Western commentators. They always go into the past behavior of DPRK and try to extrapolate into its future behavior forgetting two crucial factors: DPRK is now a nuclear weapon state and Kim really wants to develop his country economically for which he badly needs good relations with US.

The behavior of Moscow and Beijing calls for a comment. For months, they obliged Trump   by agreeing to impose tighter and tighter sanctions. It was only when Kim smartly turned the tables on them by sending out a signal to Trump through President Moon of South Korea and Trump responded to that signal though with some delay that China and Russia realized that they had to get into the game. Kim responded cleverly by going to China twice to meet with President Xi Jinping  and accepting an invitation to go to Moscow from Foreign Minister Lavrov who came to Pyongyang. There is no doubt at all that Kim has played his hand skillfully.

Let us try to find out how South Korea, China, Russia, and Japan might look at the summit.   Obviously, President Moon of South Korea will be overjoyed as he, above all others, has worked the hardest to make the summit happen. His ‘sun-shine policy’ of seeking peace and cooperation with DPRK has  marked a milestone. At one time, Moon was supposed to be present in Singapore to have a meeting with Trump and Kim after they had met first. Secretary Pompeo is on his way to Seoul to brief President Moon.

China has an ambivalent approach to the whole problem. It does not want a crisis in DPRK that might cause a huge exodus of refugees to China. China is not too comfortable with a nuclear armed DPRK, but it also realizes that once the issue is resolved, US will cease to need China’s help in tackling DPRK. China, of course, does not want a unified Korea, but can be sure that Korean unification is far away. But, reinforced cooperation between Seoul and Pyongyang will reduce China’s hold on DPRK. If DPRK has normal trade with South Korea, obviously it will be less dependent on China economically. All told, China would like to see the issue remain unresolved provided it does not lead to a war between US and DPRK.

Russia shares some of China’s concerns, but on balance it would like to see peace and stability in the Korean peninsula.

Japan might be unhappy. Prime Minister Abe has till recently taken a hard line against DPRK, He has derived considerable political advantage by taking such a hard line that also in a way was used to justify his plan for amending the Constitution to permit Japan to have a normal military. But, as the momentum developed towards a Kim-Trump summit, Abe through Moon asked for a meeting with Kim before the Singapore summit, but for understandable reasons Kim did not oblige. Abe has highlighted the issue of 17 Japanese abducted, five of whom have been returned. Trump has declared that US would work with Japan.

Let us try to figure out what is in store. Of course, there is a non-zero probability that this Singapore agreement also can come a cropper. But, there is a higher probability that the Singapore summit will deliver as both sides want it to succeed. Trump does lack certain presidential qualities, but he is a successful chief executive officer who can apply his mind to problem with singular determination. He is no Hamlet like Obama to be paralyzed between ‘to be or not to be’.

The Nobel Committee should not rush to award any prize to Trump. It should watch the implementation for at least a year and then award the prize to Trump, Kim, and Moon.

Ambassador K. P. Fabian is an Indian Diplomat who served in the Indian Foreign Service between 1964 and 2000, during which time he was posted to Madagascar, Austria, Iran, Sri Lanka, Canada, Finland, Qatar and Italy.[2] During his time in the diplomatic service, he spent three years in Iran (from 1976 to 1979), witnessing the Iranian Revolution first hand. As Joint Secretary (Gulf), Fabian coordinated the evacuation of over 176,000 Indian nationals from Iraq and Kuwait in 1990–91. His multilateral experience includes representing India at the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Civil Aviation Organization, Food and Agricultural Organization, World Food Programme and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. He is also the author of two books, Commonsense on the War on Iraq, which was published in 2003 and Diplomacy: Indian Style.

First published in Malayala Manorama


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