A North Korea-U.S. summit, which was almost cancelled, is being pursued anew. At his second summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the truce village of Panmunjom on Saturday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressed “Strong commitment to North Korea-U.S. summit on June 12,” while U.S. President Donald Trump also clearly expressed his willingness to seek the summit anew, saying, “Nothing has changed” over the June 12 Singapore summit.” Pyongyang and Washington are holding working-level talks in the United States to prepare for the summit, and the White House dispatched to Singapore an advance team to make preparations in protocol and security.
The North Korea-U.S. summit has been revived dramatically through the course of the North’s threat of “reconsideration,” followed by President Trump’s letter of cancellation, and an emergency inter-Korean Korea summit. In this process, Kim Jong Un’s change of attitude has been noticeable. Feeling a sense of crisis due to Washington’s surprise cancellation of the summit, the North Korean leader issued a statement earnestly seeking the revival of the summit on Friday, before sending an urgent request for rescue to President Moon. The second inter-Korean summit thus took place as a closed meeting at the Tongilgak in north of Panmunjom on Saturday in a surprise move just a day later the request, reflecting Kim’s sense of urgency combined with Moon’s commitment to arbitrate.
In the course of doing this, President Moon displayed “diplomacy of guarantee” that goes beyond efforts to broker Pyongyang and Washington. “Chairman Kim Jong Un has once again clarified his commitment to complete denuclearization,” President Moon said on Sunday, announcing the outcome of his summit. He thus effectively guaranteed Kim Jong Un’s commitment to complete denuclearization by going beyond a North Korean media outlet’s report that used the expression “concerted efforts to achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Moon also conveyed President Trump’s will to assure end of hostility, and cooperation for (North Korea’s) economic prosperity to Kim.
Such “diplomacy of guarantee” inevitably entails significant risks. President Moon can complete his responsibility only when the summit is successfully concluded, and the revival of North Korea-U.S. talks alone is inadequate. If Pyongyang-Washington talks do not proceed once again or end up in failure, the guarantor could be criticized by both sides.
Fluctuating political situations involving major turns and twists have occurred during over the recent days due to deep-rooted mistrust, with Pyongyang and Washington lacking even a minimum degree of trust with each other. U.S. media have reported that President Trump’s sudden cancellation was a preemptive move to block the North’s possible bid to make the first move in its favor. As Washington is suspicious of Pyongyang’s commitment to denuclearization and Pyongyang is doubtful of Washington’s commitment to assure the Pyongyang regime, the two sides were even unsure whether the other side has commitment to meet each other at all. No one can guarantee any success in such a mood of “cheating games.”
In the wake of the latest turns and twists, the way to pursue a Pyongyang-Washington summit is poised to fundamentally change as well. Thus far, experts have predicted “top-down” big deal negotiations in which the leaders of North Korea and the United States engage in bargaining over key agendas in person. However, now Pyongyang and Washington have entered full-blown working-level talks to arrange a “ceremonial” summit in which the two leaders will only sign a pre-drafted agreement. Not only this form of a summit is common practice of summit diplomacy, but the success of historic Pyongyang-Washington talks can only be guaranteed this way.
Pyongyang and Washington have to effectively finalize a detailed execution plan to secure denuclearization of and establishment of peace on the Korean Peninsula over the next two weeks before the Singapore summit. These are very challenging negotiations that have not been addressed and resolved for decades. However, if the two sides dispel distrust and engage in sincere negotiations with genuine commitment, they will be able to reach an agreement smoothly. Notably, if Kim Jong Un continues to display his changed attitude that has revived the Pyongyang-Washington summit after near cancellation, it is not impossible to reach such a deal.