Trump-Kim summit: What (probably) went wrong and what’s (perhaps) next

it seems that Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi failed to produce any kind of progress, no to mention a deal. What do you think about the summit and how you see the future of US-NK relations? Read few comments.

James Hoare, Former British Chargé d’affaires in Pyongyang, Associate Fellow, Asia-Pacific Programme, Chatham House

I suspect that both Kim and Trump went away after Singapore thinking that they had been successful. For Trump, he had done something no other US leader had done and he may well have found Kim Jong Un a congenial interlocutor. He also misinterpreted what Kim had undertaken to do. The moratorium on missile and nuclear testing, already in place, fell far short of the US demand for complete denuclearisation but Trump chose to see it in that way. Perhaps this time, reality broke in. The Koreans were willing to make some more gestures towards denuclearisation – closing down Yonbyong – but, again, were not going to meet the full US demands without some real gesture in return. The US may have been prepared to agree to some form of legal document being signed – perhaps an end of war declaration – but what the North Koreans wanted was something more substantive and with immediate effect, namely the end of sanctions. I suspect that was an absolute position, adopted for negotiating purposes; they might have accepted something less than the complete lifting of sanctions. But there appears to have been no yield on the US side, so they agreed to differ and to walk away from the talks.

The danger is that now each side goes back to a hostile position. Whatever view one takes of Mr Trump, he had begun to move a logjam. We now have the logjam back again, with two leaders both probably feeling a bit annoyed that having made the effort to go to Hanoi, nothing has happened.

The Chinese will be concerned at the possibility of new tensions on the Korean peninsula. I suspect that they will be more relaxed about sanctions – something that has seemed evident since the Singapore meeting. The South Koreans will also be concerned that it will be back to confrontation. Where does that leave Mr Moon’s rapprochement with the North?

But perhaps it is a positive thing that both sides are beginning to understand the difficulties they face. It might even lead, slowly, to more realistic aims and negotiations.

Edward GriffithSenior Lecturer & Course Leader Asia Pacific Studies, University of Central Lancashire

We still don’t have Kim’s version of events (and may not get one) so we should be cautious about our assessments, but it does seem clear that the DPRK wanted a much swifter removal of sanctions than the US felt it was able to agree to. Given that what was on the table was only Yongbyon and not either of the two other sites that are believed to have uranium enrichment capability, this was always an ambitious goal for Kim.

While some will be disappointed that there is no agreement, there may also be a sense of relief among experienced diplomats. It was clear that no agreement had been reached prior to the meeting and that left only one possible alternative to no deal: an agreement made between Kim and Trump in a brief personal exchange. Such a deal could have seen Trump agree to concessions that he may not fully understand (as he did in Singapore when he agreed to end military exercises with South Korea).

That there was not enough groundwork done on either side to get a deal agreed also tells us something about this relationship. It is very rare for summits of such high profile and potential significance to not have some sort of agreement in place before leaders sit down to finalise the deals. Given that this also happened in Singapore (although an agreement of sorts was realised during personal talks between the two leaders on that occasion) this suggests that Kim felt he would be able to get the concession he wanted from Trump personally. Whether that is because he has faith in the personal relationship they have developed or because he had identified a naivety in the way Trump conducts foreign policy is hard to say for sure. That Trump walked away on this occasion may indicate he has learned his lesson.

It is impossible to predict this most unpredictable of relationships, but it seems unlikely that either leader could agree to another summit of such profile without being sure an agreement could be signed. With Trump facing an election next year and mounting pressure domestically (the timing of Cohen’s testimony could hardly have been worse), there is precious little time for this to be accomplished.

Maria Ryan, Assistant Professor of American History, University of Nottingham

I think it comes down to differences over the timing and scope of reciprocal measures to normalise the relationship between the two countries. I think both sides realise that the normalisation of the relationship will be a phased process with mutual reciprocal concessions at each stage. A lack of agreement on the precise details of how this will happen has persistently undermined the talks. It seems this time that North Korea wanted full sanctions relief in exchange for partial denuclearization. This is not something the U.S. would ever agree to. I can’t help but wonder whether that was a starting position for the North Koreans and whether they could have been persuaded to compromise a little if Trump had persisted – the fact that the summit finished early suggests there was not a whole lot of negotiating between the two men. Before the summit one of the most common concerns on the US side was that Trump would rashly make major concessions that were not reciprocated. Actually the opposite happened. I don’t think the failure of this summit has made US-DPRK relations any worse, but I suspect lower level negotiations will continue to stall for quite some time now in the absence of Presidential leadership once the summit is over.

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