An article in the Washington Post explains that “President Trump acknowledged Tuesday that there is a “substantial chance” a scheduled summit with Kim Jong Un could be canceled, as top aides prepared to travel to Singapore for a crucial planning meeting this weekend with North Korean officials … [but] … Their trip comes less than two weeks after a North Korean delegation failed to show up for a similar planning meeting with U.S. officials in the island country, a failure that raised red flags at the White House, according to people familiar with the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the process.“
I think the strategic calculus has changed because, it appears, although some observers doubt it, that severe damage to North Korea’s nuclear test sited at Punggye-ri “was a factor in the country’s decision to hold talks with the United States and South Korea about halting nuclear testing and formally ending hostilities between the countries.” The reasoning is that if North Korea cannot, for the next few years, do any serious nuclear testing it might as well trade on that fact and seek relief from sanctions in exchange. But I suspect that China and North Korea are not ready to remove all nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula unless or until there is a complete US military withdrawal from South Korea. (Remember, please, that the US has (we re told) no nuclear weapons in South Korea ~ I believe that is true ~ but there are plenty on nearby US warships and in Guam.)
In an article in Foreign Affairs, Michael Green, who is senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a professor at Georgetown University, says that “In recent weeks, Kim has expressed his willingness to pursue “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” a promise that in the past has meant only that Pyongyang would pledge to eliminate nuclear weapons just as the United States did under Article VI of the 1968 Nonproliferation Treaty. This essentially means never denuclearizing. The North has always argued that if the United States expects it to eliminate its arsenal, Washington would first have to end its own “hostile policy”—namely, economic sanctions, criticism of human rights, protection of South Korea and Japan, and whatever else Pyongyang decides it wants to throw into the mix to get concessions … [but, he adds] … What North Korea really wants from this summit, in other words, is probably not denuclearization but the opposite—acceptance of its nuclear weapons status. This should not be surprising. In 2012, North Korea revised its constitution to pronounce itself a nuclear power, and Kim declared earlier this year that his intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program was near completion, an indication that he was ready to negotiate. North Korean diplomats have also conceded since at least 2002 that their ultimate goal is to establish an arms control negotiation with the United States as a fellow nuclear weapons state. This is why Kim’s proposals thus far mimic the moves of a nuclear weapons state, such as pledging testing freezes, no first use, and no transfer.” Professor Green agrees that North Korea wants and need a relaxation of economic sanctions.
At the moment it seems that President Trump is trying to blame Xi Jinping and China for any failures in the meetings as he attempts to distract attention away from the allegations that it was he and his administration who undermined the meeting with loose talk.” There has been, from the start, too much hope and not enough skepticism about this process.
My guess is that the June 12th talks will happen … I suspect President Trump will agree to some sanctions relief because North Korea will make a rather meaningless promise to freeze testing … probably because his test facilities are too badly damaged. Is that a Nobel Peace Prize worthy agreement? Who cares? It is likely to be a very small step in the right direction … the right direction being away from armed conflict. Asia can relax, just a wee, tiny bit.
But, for now, hopes of a reunified Korea are on hold.