Failed summit

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President Donald Trump’s return to US expressing his disappointment over the failure of talks with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi is clearly a setback to the process of reconciliation for finding a peaceful solution to Korean nuclear crisis. The two-day summit meeting between the two leaders was cut short on the second without even signing a joint communiqué. There were conflicting versions on why and how the talks failed between the two sides when many leaders around the world were looking forward to this summit meeting. In fact many leaders of various countries were hopeful of the success of the meeting between US and North Korea as lot of optimism was expressed after the first meeting. There was an interesting turn of events after the first meeting between the two leaders last year followed by opening of borders between the two Koreas besides a meeting of two Korean leaders to defuse the crisis. Donald Trump’s version is that the Kim Jong-un insisted on a full withdrawal of American sanctions in exchange for the closure of only one nuclear facility. But on the other hand, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho stated that Pyongyang had sought only partial sanctions to be withdrawn in return for dismantling the Yongbyon nuclear site, which is the main nuclear facility. Whatever be the actual reason, one thing is clear: the bonhomie between the two leaders after last year’s Singapore summit was missing in Hanoi. After the Singapore meet, both sides had agreed to have ‘new US-North Korea relations’ and establish a “lasting and stable peace regime” on the Korean peninsula. Pyongyang had also promised to work towards “complete denuclearization” in the region to ensure peace and stability. No such comments about the future course of the peace process were issued this time by either side after the summit meeting. After the failure of Hanoi meeting, the North Koreans have ruled out any immediate plans for a future meeting between the two sides on nuclear or any other issue. How the talks or Confidence Building Measures move forward in the future will be interesting to watch with lot of diplomatic activity going on between North Korea and other countries particularly the South Korea. It appears that a part of the problem was the failure of both Washington and Pyongyang in following up on commitments made in Singapore. A few weeks ahead of that summit in June, North Korea had announced a complete freeze on nuclear and missile tests as a reconciliatory gesture. It had asked the US to reciprocate – its main demand was a formal declaration of an end to the 1950-53 Korean War. But the Donald Trump administration refused to do so for the reason best known to US administration. Lack of CBMs also blunted the momentum created in Singapore. When US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo first visited Pyongyang, Kim Jong-un refused to meet him. Later, the US intelligence agencies reported that North Korea continued its ballistic missile programme after the first Trump-Kim summit. With these problems still in place, the second summit between the leaders was announced with no follow up from both sides. Any hopes of clinching a big agreement in Hanoi fell as both sides stuck to their respective demands. However, the setback need not necessarily bring the peace process to a halt. But one thing is clear that both sides need to resume their dialogue process and pick up the threads from where they were dropped. Donald Trump himself has said denuclearization is a long process. The freeze on nuclear and missile tests that Kim Jong-un announced is still in place. The Korean peninsula has been calm, while inter-Korean relations have markedly improved after the meeting between the leaders of two countries. Before the Hanoi summit, there were reports that the US would declare an end to the Korean War and that both countries would open liaison offices in each other’s capitals as part of normalization of ties. They should go ahead with such measures aimed at confidence building and mutual trust while also taking an approach in a phased manner to deal with more contentious issues including denuclearisation.