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    After Inter-Korean summit, Singapore announced as venue for landmark talks between United States and North Korea

    North Korea shocks world by announcing it will suspend its nuclear program --

    On April 20, 2018, ?North Korea stunned the world as it announced that it had completed its work developing nuclear weapons and was, thus, shutting down its nuclear test site in the northern part of the country, and suspending its nuclear program. North Korea further said that it was turning its attention to economic growth. ?

    North Korean leader Kim Jong-un addressed the matter himself, emphasizing in a statement that there was no need to carry out ?further nuclear or missile tests since North Korea had completed the process of weaponizing its nuclear arsenal. ?

    The statement, which was carried on state media, Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), was as follows: "From 21 April, North Korea will stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles." ?The statement continued by noting that further tests were not necessary as North Korea's nuclear capabilities had been "verified." ?The ?declaration also addressed the closure of the northern nuclear test site as follows: "The northern nuclear test site has completed its mission."

    The new focus for North Korea, according to Kim Jong-un, would be economic development.?

    In a country where the nuclear program was a foundation of national identity, Kim's statement could only be regarded as both remarkable and unprecedented.?

    It was too soon to tell if North Korea would keep this promise (previous commitments have been systematically violated), or, ?if this was a public statement was intended to set the table for impending talks with South Korea and the United States. ?Nevertheless, the declaration had to be understood as potentially positive for global stability.?

    A spokesperson from South Korean President Moon Jae-in lauded the move by North Korea, casting it as "meaningful progress." ?The South Korea president's office added, "It will also contribute to creating a very positive environment for the success of the upcoming South-North summit and North-United States summit."

    President Trump hailed the development via the social media outlet, Twitter. He tweeted:?
    "This is very good news for North Korea and the World - big progress! Look forward to our Summit."

    At historic inter-Korean summit leaders aim for end of war and denuclearization --

    On April 27, 2016, the anticipated landmark summit of the two Koreas took place at the border village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) dividing the two countries. ?

    With a step, Kim Jong-un made history as the first North Korean leader since 1953 to cross over into South Korean territory. ?With the spirit of conciliation at hand, Moon hailed Kim's willingness to do so, saying, "It was a very courageous decision for you to come all the way here."

    Not missing the opportunity to take control of the moment, Kim Jong-un urged his South Korean counterpart, ?Moon Jae-in, to cross over into North Korean territory. He said, "Maybe this is the right time for you to enter North Korean territory." ?With Moon obliging, and with smiles and handshakes punctuating the occasion, the unscripted moment at a highly choreographed meeting ?marked an end to decades of hostility between the two Koreas, which remained officially still at war.?

    The leaders of the two respective Koreas entered the PeaCe House at Panmunjom ?where Kim Jong-un signed the visitor's book. In the log, he wrote, "A new history begins now" and "An age of peace, at the starting point of history."

    Discussions then ensued at the Peace House, with Kim Jong-un's sister ?Kim Yo Jong also at the table. ?

    The two hours of talks covered an official end of the war via a permanent peace agreement as well as denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. ?By the end of the meeting between the respective leaders of North Korea and South Korea, the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula had been adopted. According to the declaration, the two Koreas would work towards officially ending the Korean War, and they would commence a new era of peace and reconciliation, with denuclearization implied.

    Of significance was the fact that the end of the Korean War in 1953 concluded with the signing of an armistice and not an ?official agreement ending the war. ?Now, however, that goal was at hand. ?

    Discussions at Peace House also included the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. ?Related elements of this issue included the pursuit of arms reduction on a phased basis, ?the cessation of hostile acts, and the transformation of the fortified border into a peace zone. ?

    The symbolism of the meeting aside, the inter-Korean summit marked the start and not the end of what could be a long, arduous, and complicated process. ?Indeed, there was little time spent on the specific measures needed to achieve the lofty goals. ?

    Also of concern was the commitment to good faith by Kim Jong-un. North Korea has, in the past, secured valuable concessions on the basis of certain promises and obligations that were never met. It was to be seen if this chapter would end differently. ?

    Meanwhile, there was the domestic situation in South Korea to consider. ?While President Moon was propelled to power on a pro-rapprochement and pro-diplomacy campaign agenda, and ?although most South Koreans supported the idea of dialogue as the pathway to peace on the Korean Peninsula, there remained a climate of skepticism. ?South Koreans worried about the nature of ?the concessions needed to seal a deal with Pyongyang. That being said, South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed to visit the North Korean capital of Pyongyang later in 2018

    Success in establishing stability in east Asia would also entail multilateral talks with other countries including Japan and the United States. ?Indeed, of concern to the United States was North Korea's ability to launch long-range missiles capable of reaching its territory. ?The United States would likely want guarantees guarding against that possibility. ?Meanwhile, Japan had similar concerns regarding much more feasible short-range and medium-range missile strikes. ?It was unclear if either the United States or Japan interpreted the notion of "denuclearization" in precisely the same way as North Korea.?

    The general consensus was that while the Inter-Korean summit was historic in nature, and although the Panmunjom Declaration was to be regarded as a landmark gesture, the occasion was ?heavy on style and less so on substance. ?Nevertheless, there was something to be said the spirit of optimism and positive atmospherics in forging a foundation for the peace process. ?Moreover, symbolic gestures have long been key modalities in the trust building exercises needed to cultivate peace negotiations.?

    North Korea says US pressure not behind denuclearization

    On May 8, 2018, ?North Korea made clear that its plan to denuclearize was not the result of pressure from the United States. ?The state news agency in North Korea chastised the United States for ?misleading public opinion? by claiming that its recent commitment to denuclearize was the result of pressure from the United States. ?(Note: This information was initially reported in the West by Reuters News.)

    A spokesperson for the foreign ministry issued the following statement, which was reported in the state news agency, KCNA: ?This act cannot be construed otherwise than a dangerous attempt to ruin the hardly-won atmosphere of dialogue and bring the situation back to square one.? ?

    North Korea also made clear that the issue of denuclearization would not be resolved if the United States ?miscalculated North Korea?s ?peace-loving intention as a sign of weakness" and persisted with its military threats,

    The spokesman additionally warned the United States to refrain from deliberately provoking North Korea by deploy strategic assets in South Korea or raising the issue of human rights in North Korea.

    For its part, the Trump administration in the United States has been vocal about making claims that its hardline ?"maximum pressure" policy against North Korea, including sharp rhetoric, threats, and sanctions, had forced Pyongyang to the negotiating table.?

    It was unclear if North Korea's pushback against this perception would influence the climate of impending bilateral talks. ?At the very least, the White House indicated that the meeting was still on with a venue with a date agreed upon.?

    Coming up: ?From "fire and fury" to face to face talks --

    With Step One in the diplomatic process now taken, all attention was refocusing on the impending meeting between North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un and United States President Donald Trump.?

    The Inter-Korean summit made clear that North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, craved international validation. ?With Donald Trump agreeing to meet for face to face talks with the North Korean leader, essentially elevating his cachet on the international stage, Kim Jong-un was walking into that meeting with a concession under his belt.?

    As intimated above, one key question that would be at the center of Kim-Trump talks would be whether or not the two countries view denuclearization the same way. ?North Korea would likely want to make that declaration of denuclearization without actually relinquishing its nuclear weapons and interests. ?The United States would likely want to see verifiable evidence of an irreversible end to North Korea's nuclear program. ?

    The unpredictability of Trump, in conjunction with the North Korean record of not keeping promises, could together add layers of turmoil. ?It was alway possible that Trump could make a deal that could negatively affect the leverage of South Korea and Japan, essentially damaging long-term Asian alliances. ?It was also possible that Trump could feel provoked into upending the peace process. ?At the same time, North Korea has proven itself adept at making nuclear promises it does not keep while extracting lucrative concessions.

    On the ground in South Korea, ?Perry Carmack of the Carnegie think tank observed that there was "palpable public excitement in Seoul" about the path forward in the aftermath of the Inter-Korean summit. Carmack said via Twitter that Koreans believed that Kim Jong-un's willingness to come to the negotiating table may have been motivated predominantly by economic pressure, but they also believed that he was spurred by the opportunity for face-to-face engagement with the United States president.?

    To that latter end, Koreans appeared to be fascinated by Trump's particular style of politics. On the former point, Carmack noted that Koreans were ?realistic about the North's actual commitment to denuclearization, and did not think trying to rush through a comprehensive deal would be in the best interests of security and stability.?

    A few points of concern centered on worries that Trump would not be adequately prepared for his meeting with Kim, and that South Korea's security concerns would not be given proper consideration. ?Of particular concern was the fact that ?Trump would consider withdrawing from Iran deal. ?According to Carmack, the withdrawal of the United States from the Iranian nuclear agreement would only fuel tensions between the United States and China, and would cause Kim Jong-un to be "reluctant to make concessions."

    The central question for South Korean -- and indeed, the world -- was if Trump, who has stylized himself as the "best dealmaker" would be able to forge a deal with North Korea that would lead to security and stability on the Korean peninsula. ??

    Note that it was eventually announced that the meeting between Trump and Kim would be held in Singapore. ?Singapore was chosen due to it location in the Pacific separating Asia from North America. ?As explained by a South Korean official, ?The United States had preferred Geneva. But Singapore was selected as it was the most realistically viable destination Kim Jong Un could probably travel when considering the travel time and flight distance." ?Another key consideration in selecting Singapore was its political neutrality. ??

    Editor's Note:?

    It must be emphasized that this breakthrough with North Korea was facilitated by ?three key dynamics. ?

    First, pressure from China has likely had a real economic effect on North Korea in the last year, likely making further nuclear testing unaffordable, and compelling Pyongyang to the negotiating table. China has provided North Korea with much of its food and energy supplies. At the same time, China's pressure on North Korea has been restrained for the most part, despite Pyongyang's provocative nuclear activities. China's calculation has been that it has more to lose from regime collapse, with refugees fleeing the borders. ?

    Nevertheless, China stepped up its pressure in 2017 with real results. Bilateral trade ?between China and North Korea had actually increased between 2000 and 2015. But in the first three quarters of 2017, Chinese imports from North Korea actually fell by 16.7 percent. Of particular significance in 2017 was China?s commerce ministry's temporary suspension of coal imports from North Korea. As well, China National Petroleum Corporation suspended fuel sales to North Korea that same year, while several Chinese banks restricted the financial activities of North Korean entities. These moves were - a more than likely felt acutely within North Korea.

    Second, United States President Donald Trump was giving North Korean leader Kim Jong-un what no other United States president had offered Kim, his father, or grandfather -- the opportunity to sit at the negotiating table in direct face-to-face talks as counterparts. While other former presidents, such as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, have met with North Korean leaders, they did not do so as sitting presidents, but as former presidents operating in emissary capacities. For Kim, the kind of prestige and political capital internationally likely vitiated the loss of prestige and political capital domestically, as he shuts down the nuclear program.

    Third, this diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea was spurred by the election of a pro-diplomacy South Korean government in 2017. ?

    Leading up to the election, South Korea had been embroiled in a major scandal involving then-President Park Geun-hye of the ruling Liberty Korea Party, which has had a hardline policy towards North Korea. ?The Park scandal led to sustained mass protests and, eventually, the president's impeachment. The ruling party's candidate was thus not viewed as viable in the election. ?

    Meanwhile, the opposition Democratic Party, headed by Moon Jae-in, was campaigning on rapprochement between Seoul & Pyongyang. Leading up to election day, Moon was calling for better relations with North Korea through dialogue, and promising to reverse the deployment of a United States Terminal High Altitude Defense (THAAD) anti-missile defense system to South Korea, which had been put into place to stave off the North Korean nuclear threat. ?The presence of THAAD antagonized China, while the demand by United States President Donald ?Trump that the South Korean government pay $1 billion for system served only to outrage the citizenry. As such, the political beneficiary was Moon, who articulated the most distance from the United States "maximum pressure" policy on North Korea. ?

    Once elected to power, Moon and the Democratic Party continued to push for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula. This shift in stance from Seoul after decades of hardline positioning yielded real results, with Pyongyang willing to be a negotiating partner.

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