Trump-Kim Summit: Can the fundamental cracks be ignored?

President Donald Trump is being credited for making peace possible on the Korean Peninsula. The Peninsula is going through a historic phase as the hope for peace to return has never been stronger. The success of Inter-Korean Summit set the stage for the upcoming US-North Korean Summit in June. Both the US and Korean leadership is highly positive about the outcomes of the same. However, a fact which has been missing from the media circles in this air of optimism and high diplomatic activity is that Trump administration has not softened its hardline position against the North Korean regime. This is said to be fuelled by the deep-seated distrust for Pyongyang by the hawkish core advisory group of Trump comprising Mike Pompeo, John Bolton etc. not to ignore the US ambassador to Seoul Admiral Harry Harris.

Their diplomatic activity is at an all-time high with many fronts being open and administered at the same moment. The world is witnessing highly eventful days as North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has held the second bilateral Summit with China, the first Summit between South Korea-Japan-China, US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action which will reimpose economic sanctions on Iran, the growing clout of Iran in Middle-East, the second trip of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a month, release of three American prisoners by North Korea who were also allowed to leave the country along with Pompeo, the eminent escalation of conflict between Iran and Israel on Syrian soil and finally the much-awaited announcement of the dates and venue for Trump-Kim Summit to be held on June 12 at Singapore. This definitely is much to chew in one go.

However, the above pile of positive exchanges between the major players like US, North Korea and South Korea rests on the continued harsh economic sanctions imposed by the US on North Korea. In addition to this stark contrast, another event which adds to the same sentiment is the unexpected statement by an anonymous spokesperson of Foreign Ministry of North Korea as presented by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), who criticized the Trump administration for manipulating public opinion by lavish claims that Kim Jong Un has submitted to maximum pressure and thus agreed to the Summit. The spokesperson also denounced the US administration for making public remarks that the US will not ease sanctions unless the North Korean regime completely dismantles its nuclear program which also includes its nuclear arsenal. US administration has already stated that it will also take up the issue of human rights excesses done by DPRK on its own people. The person labelled the whole series of comments as a deliberate attempt to intimidate North Korea which may lead to the complete derailing of the hard-won conducive environment for mutual dialogue.

The statement, looking at the historic setting of the Summit is not completely out of context but is sharp against the recent buildup of mutual trust. This has only come to pronounce the underlying cracks in the US and North Korean relations. The statement has raised the suspicions of many international observers aimed at presenting the possibility of no deal at the Kim-Trump Summit. Both the sides are firm on denuclearisation stance although there is no talk about the way to achieve it.  One cannot completely ignore the positive and proactive gestures made by Kim Jong Un in recent months to change his imagery perception to the world. This has definitely handed Kim some points. Trump administration is also rejoicing in the diplomatic edge it gained over the Obama Presidency by securing the release of American prisoners.

It is highly possible that Trump administration will try to push peace dialogue on similar lines of Libya model to denuclearisation wherein a covert agreement was reached between the US, UK and Libya in 2003. North Korea will have to agree to give up its nuclear program and weapons it has amassed while allowing for repeated inspections as a proof of its continued commitment. North Korean leadership has stated that it is looking forward towards a progressive and synchronous arrangement which is in contrast to the US aimed step-by-step trade-offs. US government is currently faced with severe credibility issues after its withdrawal from the JCPOA. Trump seems to be under no obligation to honour any agreements or pacts signed by previous Presidencies- a case which needs no more proof. Trump administration will thus push to work out a historic win which will be a major accomplishment of his Presidency embattling many fronts at the domestic and international level. Kim Jong Un has unleashed a charm offensive in the region which is being received warmly everywhere. His apparent change of heart along with some prominent diplomatic overtures may win him some relaxation in the sanctions.

The real outcome of the Summit is far from being predictable. The ultimate progress is only possible if both the sides agree to move from their fundamental stances.

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