U.S.-North Korea Summit Announced For February – Steps Forward To Where?

Earlier this week, the White House announced that President Trump and North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, will be meeting for a summit sometime in February. The announcement followed talks in the oval office between the U.S. President and North Korea’s top negotiator, Kim Yong Chol, which focused on matters of denuclearisation and the prospects of a second summit. No location has been announced thus far, though there is speculation that the talks will be held in Vietnam. Considering the minimal progress North Korea made on denuclearisation since the previous summit as well as Kim Jong Un’s new years’ address during which he threatened a “new path” to securing state sovereignty if sanctions were not dropped, skepticism towards the effectiveness of these talks certainly seems to be mounting.

As a result of the oval office meeting earlier this week, U.S. special envoy, Stephen Biegun, will be negotiating with the senior North Korean diplomat, Choe Son Hui, in Stockholm to arrange an agenda for the summit. Commentators have noted that this meeting is crucial to the eventual outcome of the summit and that there is little time between the setup and the event itself. One could even suggest that the prospect of a summit at this point, considering the lack of progress from last year’s talks, is rushed and futile.

Yet, UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, encouraged both countries to move on with the talks, “I think we need a clear roadmap… [ ] to clarify things,” acknowledging that the focus has already been set on the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and that further dialogue is welcomed.

In the meantime, Pyongyang has not commented on its specific aims for the summit; however, considering that it is still reportedly working on new missile development projects, it is hard to imagine that the meeting between two leaders will achieve any more than the last.

The new strategy that President Trump has adopted to try and disarm North Korea of its nuclear weapons certainly varies from previous administrations’ attempts, including Obama’s so-called “strategic patience” which denied any humanitarian reward for abhorrent behavior. Although the face-to-face meeting in Singapore last year was certainly an unprecedented move, the progress made towards the goal of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula has been minimal. Especially given that North Korea uses nuclear power as a primary mechanism for maintaining its power. Thus, it seems that the country will most likely maintain its nuclear weapons long after the Trump era, and will continue to reject humanitarian assistance in order to not halt the production and development of certain aspects of its nuclear delivery systems.

As such, taking the previous summit into the account, it becomes evident that the upcoming talks about efforts to further any denuclearisation agenda will most likely be futile.

Sam Raleigh