Realizing North Korean denuclearization remains a challenge despite summit success

Kim Jong-un signs the Panmunjom Declaration at the Peace House in the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, on April 27, 2018. Photo: UPI

The historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on June 12 in Singapore helps solve some problems between the United States and North Korea. But it also presents a challenge: how to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

To some extent, Trump and Kim have gained what they wanted from their summit. Trump has scored a great diplomatic victory in forcing North Korea to denuclearize after the congressional approval of his tax cut plan, which could be beneficial to the mid-term election and his bid for a second presidential term. It is also likely that Trump would be rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

As for Kim, some media reports said that the North Korean leader has reaped more benefits than his American counterpart, citing the joint document, in which Trump gave a big concession to Kim by only mentioning "complete" denuclearization, backing away from his previous demand for "complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement".

Also, the United States dropped the talk of the "Libya Model", which North Korea had strongly rejected and which had almost derailed the Trump-Kim summit. Trump said at a post-summit press conference in Singapore on June 12 that the United States would stop conducting joint military drills with South Korea, leaving the Pentagon and allies nervous and confused. And the US president even opened the possibility of one day pulling America's troops out of South Korea, in a sign of a break from the American security commitments to Asian allies.

However, Trump kept something in reserve by claiming that the United States would not immediately lift sanctions on North Korea unless the latter takes actual steps in moving forward complete denuclearization.

After the Trump-Kim summit, the biggest challenge is how to make the promises of the joint document, which falls short of a specific roadmap, into reality. This will be left to the follow up negotiations between the two sides. Another uncertainty is about the personalities of Trump and Kim, which a New York Times report described as short-tempered and impulsive.

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