By J.V. Lakshmana Rao
The US, North Korea, India and Pakistan are nuclear armed countries, and that nuclear status keeps the peace efforts elusive between the US and North Korea, and India and Pakistan. Yet, Trump, who finds Kim warm but hard to handle, finds Imran Khan easy to tame. But the “elite” nuclear status is keeping North Korea “poor”, and Pakistan, which is harboring terrorists to wage a proxy war against India, keeping Pakistan “poor and hated.”
US President Donald Trump went to Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, to strike an accord for peace, his second attempt, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on February 28, but found him hard to handle thus abruptly ending the second summit resulting in its collapse.
At the same time, Trump found it was easy for him to handle Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. But the surprise and welcome good news for India was the announcement of Trump at a press conference on his way back to Washington DC was that Imran Khan had agreed to release and return captured Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who ejected himself to safety from his MiG-21 after downing F-16 of Pakistan Air Force in that country’s territory.
Pakistan, which calls itself as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, had been under the military rule for several years and now under an elected government, has been harboring terrorist groups to wage a proxy war against India after having been defeated in four direct wars.
Pakistan, a much smaller and weaker independent country than India, which was carved out of India, has been fighting with India on the Kashmir issue almost ever since India simultaneously became independent as a Sovereign, Socialist Secular Democratic Republic in 1947.
Whereas, North Korea, even smaller than Pakistan, while openly hostile to the US till June 2018 Trump-Kim summit and from then on stealthily continuing its nuclear buildup, insists on the US to lift its international economic sanctions.
For almost six decades after the de facto end of three-year-long war in 1953 between North Korea and South Korea, when both the countries signed an armistice, North Korea under the dictatorship while the democratic South Korea continued to enjoy the support of the US, with its troops stationed in the Korean Peninsula.
As North Korea, with the presence of the US troops in the Peninsula, has become insecure and started pursuing nuclear and missile programs aimed at the US and South Korea as its targets. Consequently, the US, with the support of the United Nations, imposed economic sanctions to tame North Korea.
There were vain attempts in the past by former US Presidents like Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama to meet North Korean leaders to defuse the nuclear stand-off.
It is interesting to note that the first indication of Trump’s willingness to meet Kim came to light when Trump interrupted a visiting trio of top South Korean officials in the Oval Office in Washington, DC, on March 8, 2018 as they analyzed an offer from the North Korean Chairman for possible diplomatic options.
Encouraged by Trump’s offer, Kim, during his first visit outside the country, met in Beijing on March 28, 2018 his only confidante Chinese President Xi Jinping for guidance. The proposed Korean summit also prominently figured in the talks when Japanese Prime Minister Shino Abe met Trump in Washington, DC, on April 17-18, 2018. All these developments and meetings culminated into a summit-like meeting on April 27, 2018 between sworn-rivals-now-turned-friends Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Panmunjom, the “truce village” of the Demilitarized Zone.
Consequently, preparations had begun for the first ever face-to-face summit between Trump and Kim in Singapore on June 12, 2018. Even after the date and venue were finalized, there were some harsh exchange of communications between Trump and Kim, but they all fizzled out amicably and the summit did take place with a 45-minute one-on-on meeting between the two leaders and they released their signed joint statement.
Accordingly, Kim was expected to dismantle all the nuclear-related structures and defuse the nuclear arms, disable the missiles and dispose of stockpile of fissile material with a verifiable process for the US inspectors. Trump estimated that to complete the task of denuclearization, Kim might need at least six months, though it might take even longer time than that. Trump also made it a condition to Kim that till he accomplished denuclearization and verification of it by the US inspectors, the economic sanctions of the US on North Korea would continue.
However, the joint statement, which showed no irritants to believe that their meeting was not smooth, was very sketchy, not very clear about the operations, and it has not set any deadlines for achieving the objectives.
But one surprise concession that Trump announced at that time to Kim’s request, was that he would order suspension of US joint defense exercises with South Korea in the region. Trump would maintain economic sanctions against North Korea, but he would stop the “war games” along with South Korea, as negotiations would continue with North Korea.
But subsequently reports by US spy agencies have indicated that North Korea has not been adhering to the promises it has made but working on new missiles at one of its sophisticated factories. The US intelligence reports also quote satellite photographs as evidence to the North Korean buildup of liquid-fueled Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) in Sanumdong research facility.
All these actions are contrary to the Trump administration’s formal timeline set for North Korea to initiate the process of denuclearization. It is learnt that the US has presented a time-line program to the North Korea several times in the past.
Whatever had been done could be looked at as history until the beginning of 2019 when a new hope for second round of talks emerged. There have been reports that efforts were being initiated for the second summit between Trump and Kim, with an expectation that now concrete steps would be taken by North Korea that would lead to peace in Korean Peninsula.
The first official information about the second summit was announced by Trump himself during his State of the Union address in Washington DC on February 5. Trump said that although his relations with Kim were cordial, much work remains to be done towards peace on the Korean Peninsula.
However, Trump confirmed in a Twitter message on February 10 that he would be meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the form of a second summit in Vietnamese capital of Hanoi on February 27 and 28. As planned the second summit did take place pompously as scheduled with lots of expectations and hope, to achieve Korean Peninsula peace; but it ended abruptly.
The second summit opened with a dinner on February 27 with the two leaders sharing smiles, pleasantries, exchanging warm handshakes and 30-minute one-on-one talks with a hope to continue them on February 28.
Before beginning of the dinner, Trump said: “A lot of things are going to be solved I hope. I think it will lead to a wonderful, really wonderful situation long-tern.”
In reply, Kim said: “This country had long been misunderstood and viewed with distrust. There have been efforts whether out of hostility or not, to block the path that we intend to take. But we have overcome all these and walked towards each other again and we have now reached Hanoi after 281 days since our first meeting in Singapore. We have met again here and I am confident that we can achieve great results that everyone welcomes.”
Contrary to that expectations, the proceedings of the second day of the second summit on February 28 ended abruptly and dramatically with both the leaders sticking to their points that led to the collapse of talks. The talks collapsed after the two sides failed to agree on even the first steps on nuclear disarmament, a peace declaration or reducing sanctions on North Korea.
Trump said: “I would much rather do it right than do it fast. Sometimes you have to walk. It is about the sanctions.” He added that Kim demanded that the US lift harsh economic sanctions imposed on North Korea with the approval of the United Nations.
The US President said that Kim had agreed to take an important step toward dismantling a central part of his nuclear program – the Yong by on enrichment facility. But Kim said that he would do so only if all sanctions were lifted.
Trump said that North Korea would have to dismantle other parts of the program before all sanctions were lifted.
Though Trump claims that relations with Kim are warm, but rightfully it looks that mutual trust is obviously lacking between them. The result was that Trump abruptly ended the talks and walked out of the summit.
The US officials feel that the sanctions are North Korea’s main leverage, and that is what’s keeping it tight to the critical goal of full denuclearization.
Though the talks at the second summit have failed Trump does not rule out that he would meet Kim again.
Meanwhile the post-second summit reports say that following the collapse of talks, North Korea has once again resumed its “rapid rebuilding” of nuclear facilities.
Similarly though Imran Khan has “graciously” released the captive Indian Air Force pilot under Trump pressure, Pakistan continues Indo-Pak border violations and sporadic terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir.
The US, North Korea, India and Pakistan are nuclear armed countries, and that nuclear status keeps the peace efforts elusive between the US and North Korea; and India and Pakistan. Yet, Trump, who finds Kim warm but hard to handle, finds Imran Khan easy to tame. But the “elite” nuclear status is keeping North Korea “poor,” and Pakistan, which is harboring terrorists to wage a proxy war against India, “poor and hated.”
The United States and India have separately called upon Pakistan to ensure its post-Pulwama crackdown on terrorists was “sustained, irreversible” and not “cosmetic” as in the past.