The historic summit in Singapore on Tuesday between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un heralds the dawn of a new era on the Korean peninsula. After the big powers imposed division of the Korean people and the devastating 1950-53 Korean War, the Armistice signed in July 1953 between the UN Command, Chinese Volunteers’ Army and North Korean Army has been frozen in time with no peace treaty.
In the last 12 months, the people of both North and South Korea had a roller coaster ride – sometimes facing the threat of a US imposed war and sometimes witnessing moves towards peace. The assiduous efforts of South Korean President Moon Jae-in for reconciliation with the North and Chairman Kim Jong-un’s surprising positive response changed the equations since the beginning of this year.
The first tangible landmark was the 27th April Summit between President Moon Jae-in and Chairman Kim Jong-un. The historic ‘Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula’ set the background in which the Trump-Kim summit was proposed, accepted and realized.
Tuesday’s summit was preceded by detailed and hard negotiations between the US and North Korean negotiators. Last month, it appeared that the Summit had been derailed when President Donald Trump had called it off; but, wisely, he kept the door open for continuation of the talks. South Korean President Moon immediately held a second summit with Chairman Kim and pleaded with President Trump to rescue the summit.
The 12 June Summit has met expectations. It bestowed the status of an equal power to North Korea which is a huge achievement for Pyongyang. Both President Trump and Chairman Kim displayed positivity towards each other. In his remarks at the signing ceremony, President Trump said that it was an honour to meet Chairman Kim and declared that the two leaders have a ‘special bond’. It is truly a dramatic turnaround from the verbal exchanges of last year between the two leaders.
Both leaders signed a comprehensive agreement which could change the present tense situation on the Korean peninsula. President Trump said that the talks were ‘better than anybody would have expected.’ President Trump also said that the process of denuclearization would start ‘very quickly’. The short 2-page Agreement is silent on details but sets clear goals for the future. It spoke of a commitment to establish ‘new US-DPRK relations for peace and prosperity’. The second goal is to make joint efforts to ‘build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula’. This includes a guarantee of regime security for North Korea. The third goal is DPRK’s commitment ‘to work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula’. However, the Agreement is silent on lifting of sanctions against North Korea. President Donald Trump stated that sanctions against North Korea will come off ‘when US is sure that DPRK nukes are no longer effective.’
In many ways the 12 June Agreement is reminiscent of the October 1994 Agreed Framework for DPRK’s denuclearization which was signed between North Korea and US during President Clinton’s regime. But that agreement broke down with both sides accusing each other of bad faith.
Tough negotiations lie ahead for US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to work out the details of the implementation of the Agreement. For the present, both President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un have displayed the qualities of leadership and decisiveness and seem to have developed a good personal chemistry. This would be of immense significance in the days ahead.
India has welcomed the summit as a positive development. India hopes that the outcomes of US-DPRK summit will be implemented, paving the way for lasting peace and stability in the Korean peninsula. Alluding to the past nexus between Pakistan and DPRK for clandestine exchange of nuclear and missile technology; India also hopes that the resolution of the Korean peninsula issue will take into account and address our concerns about proliferation linkages extending to India’s neighbourhood.
In sum, the Agreement lifts off the war clouds which had gathered over the two Koreas late last year. But the road ahead will be bumpy as North Korea would demand reciprocal concessions as it takes concrete steps to dismantle its nuclear capacity.
Script: Amb. Skand Ranjan Tayal, Former Indian Ambassador to South Korea