Another Standoff Between U.S. and North Korea

Daphne Tang ‘19

The summit between the United States and North Korea on February 27-28, 2019 in Vietnam had the potential for a historic compromise about denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, but the convention dispersed unexpectedly early without an agreement.

Kim Jong-Un agreed to dismantle some nuclear plants in exchange for the lifting of all sanctions on North Korea. These punitive measures have crippled the dictatorship’s ability to import oil and expand its revenue through exports. Kim Jong-Un expressed a willingness to close the country’s largest nuclear program in Yongbyon, but Donald Trump refused to remove all sanctions because North Korea would not completely denuclearize. Consensus exists that the dictatorship has other uranium enrichment facilities besides Yongbyon. Throughout the proceedings, both sides held tightly onto their bargaining chips (North Korea’s potential for denuclearization and the U.S.’s elimination of sanctions). Clear signs that discussions collapsed emerged on the summit’s second day. After both sides cancelled a working lunch and the signing of a joint agreement, the closing ceremony was rescheduled for two hours earlier. Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un left the summit without an agreement.

Jerry Yang ‘19 comments, “while there have been notable advances in north korean-american bilateral diplomacy in recent years, it remains to be seen whether Trump’s negotiating style is helping or hurting the american position.” Nurah Kutty ‘21 continues that the summit was “symbolic of a relationship but meant nothing” because Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un “came back to their country without real deals.”

The global reaction has been varied. While Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, endorsed Donald Trump’s decision to abandon the convention, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-In expressed disappointment. North Korea’s nuclear arsenal has posed a threat to its southern neighbor’s security for decades, and South Korea had hoped for a denuclearization deal.

Although the summit did not produce an agreement, some members of the international community remain optimistic because the meeting symbolized a continued willingness to negotiate. Granted, North Korea and the United States’ ideologies are diametrically opposed to each other’s, but both nations have interests vested in a compromise. The path to an agreement contains obstacles, but a temporary setback does not have to spell doom for the entire initiative. The future is uncertain, but time will tell.