Hanoi summit with Trump may see Kim Jong-un’s ambitions grow

US President Donald Trump and the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un met for the first time in Singapore in June 2018. The US had hoped for a North Korean commitment to full, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation. What it got instead was a vague promise “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”. Mr Kim did agree to shut down a missile engine testing site but North Korea most probably did not need it any longer. In fact, the major concession in Singapore was made by Mr Trump who announced the suspension of “expensive” and “provocative” military exercises with South Korea. Will the results be any better when Mr Trump and Mr Kim meet each other again in Hanoi on February 27-28?

Mr Kim has already achieved de facto nuclear status for North Korea. Flaunting the nukes, he has been able to drag the US president to the negotiating table. He is not going to give up the nuclear deterrent and lose everything he has so far achieved. Besides, he also does not want to meet the fate of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein or Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. It now seems that Mr Trump also knows that denuclearisation is an unrealistic goal. He is happy that North Korea is no longer testing nuclear weapons and missiles.

The most realistic goal would be to place some sort of limits on the nuclear weapons programme of North Korea. Mr Kim has hinted that he would be willing to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear complex where North Korea produces plutonium and enriches uranium. But several questions remain. Will he shut down the entire complex? Will the dismantling process be truly irreversible? And most importantly, how much and what exactly will Mr Kim demand in return? The US is contemplating a move to declare an end to the 1950-53 Korean War which had halted on the back of an armistice agreement. But Mr Kim may demand much more. Will Mr Trump make some big concessions on economic sanctions? We will know later this week.

First Published:
Feb 26, 2019 07:50 IST

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