At the upcoming inter-Korean summit slated for late April, South Korea should seek a clear understanding of North Korea’s interpretation of what the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will mean, said former U.S. officials who have dealt with North Korea extensively.
As President Donald Trump appears to be optimistic about the prospects of potential talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the former U.S. officials remain skeptical Washington and Pyongyang share the same meaning of denuclearization.
U.S. officials confirmed on Sunday that North Korea directly told the White House that Kim would be interested in talks and was prepared to discuss denuclearization at a summit with Trump.
On Monday, Trump said, “I think there’ll be great respect paid by both parties, and hopefully we’ll be able to make a deal on the de-nuking of North Korea.” Trump said he’ll meet with Kim in late May or early June, but the date and place have not been confirmed.
Mitchell Reiss, director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department during the George W. Bush administration, urged caution until it is better known what Kim means when he says he is willing to talk about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
“What North Korea means by denuclearization is very different than what the United States and what South Korea traditionally has meant by denuclearization,” said Reiss, who negotiated with the North over the nuclear issue in 1990s. “And in my conversations with North Koreans over the years, it is clear that the United States has to take a number of steps first, such as ending the alliance with South Korea, removing all of its military troops off the Korean Peninsula.”
Dennis Wilder, senior director for East Asian Affairs at the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration, said South Korean President Moon Jae-in should seek out North Korea’s view of denuclearization during the inter-Korean summit as a way to pave the way for the U.S. to discuss denuclearization at the anticipated U.S.-North Korea summit.
“It’s a very important question to deal with – [North Korea’s] perception of denuclearization – before the president of the United States meets with Kim Jong Un,” said Wilder. “If the South Korean president could get more specifics as to how the North Koreans are looking at this question, that will help the United States set up the summit.”
Other former U.S. officials think that while Seoul should ask Pyongyang to clarify its meaning of denuclearization at the inter-Korean summit, the actual denuclearization talks should be left for the U.S. to discuss with North Korea.
“Denuclearization is, no doubt, going to be … a U.S. angle,” said William Brown, a former intelligence official who is now an adjunct lecturer at Georgetown University. “The Moon and Kim summit should be getting ready for the denuclearization talks but not actually doing it for themselves.”
The extent of the discussion on denuclearization at the inter-Korean summit, according to Gary Samore, former White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction under president Barack Obama, should be limited to “South Korea having a statement, a communique of a North Korean intent to pursue denuclearization.”
Samore thinks Pyongyang’s written denuclearization intent “will be sufficient for the first meeting.”
Robert Gallucci, chief U.S. negotiator during the North Korean nuclear crisis in 1994, said the inter-Korean summit should create an atmosphere for “future conversations between experts” by touching up on a general framework of talks. He said, “It’s less important that they make a detailed progress in their meeting than it is that they agree on broad terms of what they are trying to accomplish and where they end up.”
Christopher Hill, who negotiated with the North as head of the U.S. delegation during the George W. Bush administration, said close coordination and cooperation between Seoul and Washington are critical when discussing security issues in particular.
“It’s especially important that the South Korean and the U.S. governments continue to have a pattern of close cooperation” and “an adequate consultation to make sure that there’s an agreed pace of progress,” Hill said.
Former U.S. officials are concerned that Seoul would get too far ahead in engaging Pyongyang at the inter-Korean summit and offer incentives such as economic and humanitarian aid and the easing of sanctions imposed against North Korea.
They particularly cautioned that Seoul must stay tough on sanctions. Trump has repeatedly credited sanctions imposed on North Korea as the impetus behind the current thaw in relations.
“I think it will be a big problem if the South Korean side starts to cut back on sanctions,” Brown said.
Wilder voiced similar concerns and warned, “Do not lift the sanctions too soon. The past mistake was to get too easy on North Korea too soon.” Brown and other experts are worried that if Seoul eases sanctions before Kim agrees to take concrete action toward denuclearization, South Korea will undermine Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign.
Seoul and Pyongyang will hold their summit on April 27 in the border village of Panmunjom.
Kim’s intent to discuss denuclearization was initially conveyed by South Korean envoys who traveled to Washington in early March to brief Trump on their meeting with Kim in Pyongyang held a few days earlier.
As Britain prepares for the NATO leaders’ meeting outside London December 3-4, the alliance said Thursday it had agreed to redistribute costs and cut the U.S. contribution to its central budget.
NATO’s central budget is relatively small at around $2.5 billion a year, mostly covering headquarters operations and staff, and different than its defense budget. U.S. President Donald Trump often complains of inequitable burden-sharing, with only nine of the 29 member countries meeting the 2% of gross domestic product target for the alliance’s defense spending.
Regarding the central budget, “The U.S. will pay less, Germany will pay more, so now the U.S. and Germany will pay the same,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Paris Thursday.
The United States currently pays about 22% of NATO’s central budget. Beginning 2021, both U.S. and Germany will contribute about 16%.
NATO also plans to consider a Franco-German proposal to create a working group of “respected figures” to discuss reform in the alliance and address concerns about its future.
The announcement to reduce the American contribution is seen as a move to placate Trump, who has considered withdrawing from the alliance but has since taken credit for its promised reforms.
“In 2016, only four allies spent 2% of GDP on defense,” a senior administration official told reporters Friday, adding that there are now nine countries, including the U.S., meeting the 2% target, with 18 expected to do so by 2024.
“This is tremendous progress, and I think it is due to the president’s diplomatic work,” he said.
Leaders of the 29 member states will attempt a show of unity during the summit but the alliance is facing questioning about its relevance and unity, particularly after the October withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, a move Trump made without consulting NATO.
“It’s exactly in the wake of that decision that you had [French] President [Emmanuel] Macron say what he said about the alliance being ‘brain-dead’ and referencing the lack of American leadership in the sense of leading in a community and not just going out on your own,” said Gary Schmitt, a NATO analyst with the American Enterprise Institute.
U.S. troops’ withdrawal from Syria prompted Turkey to launch an offensive against Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria. The move spurred Macron to vent his frustration over what French diplomats say is NATO’s lack of coordination at a political level, and triggered fear among allies that the assault will undermine the battle against Islamic State militants.
Meanwhile, a simmering war between Russia and Ukraine has become the backdrop of Trump’s impeachment, with the American president allegedly having withheld hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid to pressure the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate running against Trump. Kyiv needs the aid to counter Moscow’s aggression.
The two conflicts in Europe’s eastern and southern flank further complicate Washington’s already-strained relations with other NATO members. Meanwhile, despite American efforts to reassure European leaders of Washington’s continuing commitment, anxiety about U.S. neglect of NATO under Trump persists, said Hans Kundnani, Senior Research Fellow in the Europe Program at Chatham House.
Kundnani noted a series of American officials who have come to reassure Europeans not to take Trump’s tweets too seriously and focus on what is happening on the ground, particularly the military reinforcement of NATO’s eastern flank. Still, Kundnani said that in the last year Europeans have started to realize it’s “not really good enough” and they’re now facing the “reality of the of the crisis in NATO.”
“Some of them are hoping that Trump will be out of office in in a year’s time but the real fear is that Trump wins a second term,” said Kundnani, adding that some Europeans are hoping that “U.S. gradual withdrawal from Europe” might “snap back to the status quo ante if Trump is not re-elected.”
Diverging European responses
“The upcoming celebration of NATO’s 70th anniversary will be marked by important divisions within the alliance — not just across the Atlantic, but also within Europe,” said Karen Donfried, president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
In Paris, the view is “strategic autonomy,” said Donfried, with many in France concluding that Washington’s security guarantee can no longer be relied on. Warsaw is promoting “strategic embrace” developing close bilateral relationship with Trump to guarantee its own security, while Berlin is advocating “strategic patience.”
Germany in the middle is a little bit divided between the “Atlanticists” and the “post-Atlanticists,” Kundani said, adding that “Europeans are very much arguing” about these approaches.
Donfried said that against this backdrop, NATO allies are approaching the London summit with a sense of foreboding, knowing that they carry the responsibility to articulate alliance’s common purpose and ongoing relevance.
“If they don’t, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will be raising a glass in Moscow to the fraught state of the alliance at 70,” she said.
Another summit goal for most European leaders, is to simply avoid a Trump flare-up, like those that have happened in past meetings.
Many have discovered this can be achieved through flattery. “They can talk about all the things that they’ve done and very smartly suggest that President Trump has generated the kind of pressure to make those things happen,” Schmitt said.
“They can actually praise President Trump, even though this is very hard for them to do because of the personality clashes.”
Many will be watching Trump’s encounters with Macron, including their bilateral meeting, as well as with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson has pleaded for Trump to stay out of the upcoming British election during his London trip.
The senior administration official said that Trump is “aware of this” and “absolutely cognizant of not wading into other countries’ elections.”
Other potential clashes are simmering too. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that Emmanuel Macron’s NATO “brain-death” warning reflects a “sick and shallow” understanding, telling the French president “you should check whether you are brain dead.”
The French foreign ministry has summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Paris to protest the statement. (VOA)