No deal not necessarily a bad dealThe breakdown of talks at the second U.S.-North Korea summit comes as a great shock as the meeting was expected to yield at least a minimal compromise toward the North’s denuclearization.
When news that the summit’s signing ceremony had been canceled, the press center covering the summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, broke down in chaos. Government officials from Washington were reticent, looking clueless as to what had happened. In their faces could be seen the fear that the months-long negotiations process with the North may have gone to naught in a matter of hours.
The reason why most experts believed the summit would yield an agreement of some sorts was due to the situation U.S. President Donald Trump faces back home in Washington. Controversy continues to surround the possible Russian involvement in his election victory back in 2016 and his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, testified against him at a congressional hearing just a night earlier. The concern was that Trump would try to get a weak deal with the North in order to make up for these faults.
But all these expectations proved to be incorrect. Trump’s decision to walk away from a deal despite the political pressure to do so shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was insistent on getting sanctions relief from the United States without taking the appropriate measures toward denuclearization, as confirmed by Trump at a following press conference.
The summit’s collapse will put a damper on the inter-Korean peace process pursued by the South Korean government, which was hoping for a partial lifting of sanctions that would allow it to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang tour program.
Yet what this reality confirms is that no deal is better than a bad deal. If the North would have won by only offering to dismantle enrichment facilities at Yongbyon, they could very well have reversed this course as they have done in the past. Pyongyang would retain its status as a de facto nuclear state while the South would be left hanging.
Seoul must make it clear to Pyongyang that without complete denuclearization, even partial sanctions relief is impossible. The United States is no pushover.
South Korea must also overcome its baseless optimism and face reality. Rather than lose hope, if it continues to pursue the role of a proper mediator between the United States and North Korea, perhaps a turn of the tide is just around the corner.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 1, Page 30