U.S.-North Korea Summit

U.S.-North Korea Summit

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The Korea Summit

Patricia Kim, the Stanton nuclear security fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, discusses the June 12, 2018, U.S.-North Korea summit, as part of CFR’s Religion and Foreign Policy Conference Call series.

Learn more about CFR's Religion and Foreign Policy Program.


Patricia M. Kim

Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations


Irina A. Faskianos

Vice President, National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

FASKIANOS: Good afternoon from New York and welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations Religion and Foreign Policy Conference Call Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. As a reminder, today’s call is on the record and the audio and transcript will be available on our website, www.CFR.org, and on our iTunes podcast channel, Religion and Foreign Policy.

We’re delighted to have Patricia Kim with us to talk about the June 12 U.S.-North Korea summit. Patricia Kim is the Stanton nuclear security fellow at CFR. She specializes in Chinese foreign policy, U.S.-China relations, and East Asian security issues. Her current research focuses on the North Korean nuclear crisis and the future of the Korean Peninsula, the United States and China’s competition for influence in Asia, and a book manuscript on high-level negotiations between the U.S. and China from 1972 to the present day. Prior to coming to CFR, she held fellowships with the Princeton-Harvard China and the World Program at Princeton University, and the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Patricia, it’s been great to have you at CFR for the past year as a nuclear Stanton fellow. This week has been pretty interesting. It would be great if you could talk about the U.S.-North Korea summit, give us your assessment, as well as the regional reaction to what transpired there.

KIM: Sure. So, first of all, Irina, thank you for putting this conference call together. And I want to thank everybody who is joining us today on the phone. As Irina mentioned, I’m going to start off with my brief assessment of what happened at the summit, and then I will look forward to a conversation with everyone on the line.

To begin, President Trump and Kim Jong-un met for around five hours in Singapore just yesterday, for what was truly a historic summit. This was the first time a sitting president of the United States sat down with the leader of North Korea. And the summit produced a very brief, joint statement which stated that the United States and North Korea would work towards a new bilateral relationship, work towards building peace on the Korean Peninsula. The statement also reiterated North Korea’s previous commitment to work towards the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which is language that they’ve used in the past. And finally, it committed North Korea to recover and repatriate the remains of American POW and missing in action—that is, in North Korean territory.

So, frankly, to me, as someone who’s been following this very closely, the results of the summit were very disappointing and troubling in many ways. I think the most important and toughest task for the United States going into this meeting was to secure a clear commitment from North Korea to dismantle its own nuclear weapons program. And we didn’t get this. So the hope was that this unconventional and risky method of starting at the very top, from one head of state to another, would pay off because securing such a commitment from North Korea was one that only the United States president could get, presumably. Now, what we got instead was North Korea’s vague commitment to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, which is a goal that it’s already committed to in the past, most recently in the April 27 Panmunjom Declaration between South and North Korea.

And this phrase “denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula,” it’s really a loaded phrase that most certainly has different interpretations from the United States and North Korea’s points of view. And it can come with conditions that are not necessarily in the United States’ larger strategic interests. Now, President Trump believes that he and Kim Jong-un established a good personal relationship in this initial meeting and that Kim Jong-un is sincere and that he’ll follow through with denuclearization and that the diplomats will be able to hammer out details in subsequent meetings. I certainly hope this is true, and that it works out this way, but it really makes me wonder if Kim Jong-un is so sincere, why were we not able to get a firmer commitment, similar to the one we had in 2005, in which North Korea specifically committed to dismantle its own nuclear weapons this time around. It’s very troubling to see we didn’t get that.

Another troubling concession was President Trump’s offer to stop what he called war games, which he called provocative. Now, it’s unclear exactly what he meant by this. And it seems to have caught Pentagon officials and South Korean leaders off guard. And just seeing how there hasn’t been clarification from the White House yet, my assumption is that people are scrambling in the background to figure out what exactly the president meant by this. It was also troubling to see President Trump use North Korea’s language, by referring to military exercises as war games and calling them provocative. Again, this is North Korea’s stance. And President Trump was willing to mirror this type of language.

Another troubling thing is that we don’t have a time table or a clear roadmap for denuclearization. Presumably Secretary Pompeo will be working on this with his North Korean counterpart in the months if not years to come. But I think it’ll be very difficult to negotiate this type of time table or road map, let alone implement it. And finally, what else is troubling is that the United States has effectively lost the levers of economic pressure that could have been used to ensure that Kim Jong-un stays on track with denuclearization, because by signing off on a statement in which we promise to seek a new relationship with North Korea, President Trump essentially greenlighted South Korean and Chinese economic cooperation with North Korea to move forward.

So despite his insistence that sanctions will stay on until North Korea makes progress on dismantling its nuclear weapons, in practice it will be hard to exert this kind of economic pressure due to the eagerness for engagement with North Korea in Seoul and Beijing. And my assessment, at least for now, is that North Korea will probably want to reap the benefits of economic development without actually fully dismantling its nuclear program. And without a binding agreement, and without economic pressure from China and South Korea, there are very little levers left to ensure that Kim Jong-un stays on track with denuclearization.

Briefly, on regional reactions to the summit—I think the Chinese and the South Koreans were generally happy that the summit didn’t blow up, that President Trump met with Kim Jong-un and they signed off on working towards a new peaceful relationship. Beijing has praised the outcome of the summit and the joint statement. And I think Chinese leaders were most relieved that nothing came out of the summit to indicate that North Korea would tilt would towards the United States, which is something that they were worried about. Kim Jong-un actually flew over to Singapore in a Chinese plane, which reflected his real dependence on his bigger neighbor.

And I think the Chinese were also very pleased when President Trump mentioned that any peace treaty process would include both China and South Korea, because back in April when President Moon of South Korea and Kim Jong-un met at the DMZ, the declaration that they signed stated that they may work either trilaterally with the United States or quadrilaterally with the United States and China to end the Korean War and sign a peace treaty. So I think the Chinese were very worried. You know, which one is it? Is it trilateral or quadrilateral? Are we included or not? And I think President Trump reassured them that they are. So they were very happy about this. And Beijing was also happy because they’ve been calling all along for a dual suspension, where North Korea stops its nuclear and missiles tests, in exchange for the United States suspending its military exercises. And this is precisely what came out of this meeting.

From a South Korean perspective, I think President Moon was very happy that the summit happened. He was probably more comfortable with the vague language about building peace than his conservative counterparts in South Korea, because he—as well as the liberal leaders of South Korea—are of the philosophy that we need to slowly build trust with North Korea in order to get it to a point where it feels comfortable enough to let go of its weapons one day. Now, having said that, I think there’s also been a lot of confusion and anxiety within South Korea about what President Trump meant when he said he wanted to suspend war games or U.S.-ROK exercises. So I think the South Koreans are scrambling to understand what exactly Trump committed to.

To summarize, I think there’s mixed feelings in South Korea. There’s optimism that we’re not going back to the fire and fury days of last year. And there was also an emotional response to see the U.S. and North Korean flags flown side-by-side, and President Trump shaking hands with Kim Jong-un. I think there’s hope and optimism that this may be the start of a new era. But there’s also some anxiety about what this all means for the U.S.-ROK alliance going forward and the United States’ commitment to South Korea.

And finally, just briefly on the Japanese perspective, I think Tokyo was much less sanguine about the outcome compared to South Korea and China. And, again, there are great concerns about the implications of President Trump’s remarks on halting military exercises and wanting to pull U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula sometime in the future. I think Japan was also very concerned that there was no language in the joint statement about restricting North Korea’s short- and medium-range missiles that threaten Japan. And there was also no official mention of Japanese abductees to North Korea, that had been at the top of President Abe’s concerns. So I think, in a sense, they were not too happy with the outcome.

I’ll wrap up by stating that I think it’s a good thing that the summit didn’t blow up, because there was always a chance that President Trump might walk in—and, you know, he said he would know within a minute if he liked Kim Jong-un or not. Obviously, they got along and we’re not going back to fire and fury. So in that sense, it’s a good thing. But the summit also raised many troubling concerns. And I think in a sense it damaged the credibility of our alliance commitments. And so it may have implications for our long-term presence and alliance system in Asia. I think that’s something that we’ll have to pay close attention to.

And I think I’ll wrap up my initial remarks here, and I will look forward to the Q&A.

FASKIANOS: Thank you very much. All right, let’s open it up to the group for questions please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our first question will come from Thomas Walsh with Universal Peace Federation.

WALSH: Thank you very much for this very helpful and sober-minded overview of the recent summit.

I came in about a minute or two late and I didn’t hear much about Russia. And they’ve been kind of a silent partner here. I wonder, just as you reflected on Japan, whether you have any insight into how Russia might be looking at this. And secondly, just how do you see the North Korean people or their sense of solidarity with China? Do they view China as a benign ally and support, say as close as the U.S. and South Korea? Or is it both a necessary alliance, but they have suspicion for Chinese domination of even North Korea? Thank you.

KIM: Sure. Thanks for your question, Thomas.

Let me start with your question about China and how North Koreans feel about Beijing. So, just as you said, I think North Korea has long seen Beijing as a necessary partner. They were obviously allies during the Korean War and China has done a lot for North Korea, has a lot of influence. At the same time, I think there’s always been this tension between the two countries and what North Korea feels is Chinese overreach. The Chinese have sort of seen North Korea as its little brother. And the North Koreans do not like that. They like their independence and they are afraid of too much Chinese influence.

Having said that, North Korea sees China as a necessary partner. Kim Jong-un reached out to Xi Jinping before he sat down with President Trump. He actually met with Xi twice in the last month or so. So I think he realizes that any sort of economic development or opening up of his country will depend on China.

As for Russia, it hasn’t had as big of a role as China, or South Korea, or the United States in all of this. The Russian foreign minister was recently in Pyongyang. And many people say that a Kim Jong-un and Putin meeting is probably in the works and will come sometime soon. I think Russia sees North Korea as another ally to be collected. I think there are expectations for economic cooperation between the two. And actually, South Korea envisions building corridors along the western and eastern coasts of the Korean Peninsula. One would connect South Korea, North Korea, and China for strategic investment and trade. And the other would connect South Korea, North Korea, and Russia. Because Russia is a neighbor, it’s right there, there will be Russian involvement going forward. But so far, Russia hasn’t played too big of a role.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from Galen Carey with the National Association of Evangelicals.

CAREY: Hi. Thank you.

It seems that there was very little talk about human rights issues. It seems that the president—President Trump’s vision is that North Korean can be rich, but not necessarily free. And I’m wondering, how do you see—what prospects are there for efforts to improve the freedom of North Korean citizens in this peace process? Or does the security situation justify completely ignoring those things?

KIM: Yes, that’s a great question. President Trump was pressed multiple times at the press conference following the summit about human rights. He was asked if he raised the issue and if Kim Jong-un is going to do something about it. And he kind of glossed over whether or not human rights was discussed. I think he said it was discussed briefly compared to denuclearization. But he made clear that this summit was really about the nuclear weapons, not so much human rights. I think he said something along the lines of Kim Jong-un is a very good leader, he’s very smart, he wants to do the right thing. And he implied there may be improvement. But really, it wasn’t a focus of the summit.

Improving human rights in North Korea in general, it’s a very tough question, right? How are you going to do it unless you take out the regime, which doesn’t end well as history shows. The reality is, is that you have to deal with the people that are sitting in power. Now, unfortunately, China—which is one of the countries that has the greatest leverage vis-à-vis North Korea—won’t be pushing Pyongyang anytime soon to increase political or religious freedom in its country. So, you know, that’s another sad fact.

I think the best long-term solution for improving human rights involves integrating North Korea into the region, opening its borders to commerce and to people-to-people exchanges, to bring the regime to the point where it is actually invested in maintaining a good international image so that it can become more responsive to outside pressure to improve its human rights. I mean, that’s very long term. It’s not going to bring immediate change. But I think that’s the best shot we have over the long term for improving human rights. And fundamental change will have to come from demands from within.

So I think one day the North Korean people will have to stand up and tell their government that they want more freedom and accountability. This is how we’re going to get fundamental change in North Korea. And in order for the North Korean people to get there, there needs to be more of North Korea’s opening to the outside world, more information going in. I think that’s the long-term solution to this. But you’re right, it’s a very tough question: How do we improve human rights in the short term in North Korea? I don’t have a good answer.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Piyush Agrawal with Global Organization of People of Indian Origin.

AGRAWAL: Thank you, ma’am.

It was a good introduction, but I am very surprised and shocked it was one-sided, almost biased. I don’t think Patricia ever had time in her life, in her experience, to negotiate with people on equal footing. I have dealt with unions and everything else, so these are negotiations. You cannot insult and play a big brother, to dictate terms to a person with whom you want to establish a relationship.

FASKIANOS: Do you have a question, sir?

AGRAWAL: My question is this kind of biased opinion does not help this group to make any opinion. This one-sided presentation does not look good. Thank you very much.

FASKIANOS: OK. Thank you.

KIM: OK. So thank you for the comment. Let me address it.

So let me just tell you that I’ve been studying this, I’ve been studying North Korea, East Asia, for a very long time. And I do not want to take a biased approach. And I think you’re absolutely right that when we deal with other countries, we cannot dictate terms. Having said that, I think we have to use our diplomatic leverage in a good way to produce good outcomes, right? And I think Kim Jong-un, North Korea, has wanted a face-to-face meeting with the United States for a very long time. This was a big prize for them. And so I think it would have been useful if we had spent more weeks, more months negotiating up to the summit, so that we could ensure that North Korea was willing to commit to a concrete timeline or even just to say that it’s willing to denuclearize. We did not get that out of this summit. And it’s very concerning to me that we weren’t able to get that, even at the top level from President Trump to Kim Jong-un. I think it would have been very useful if we were able to get a concrete commitment. And we didn’t. And that’s what I find concerning about this.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from Doug Hostetter with Mennonite Central Committee.

HOSTETTER: Thank you very much. And thank you for your presentation. I would agree a little bit with the last caller, that there was a lot of talk about the way in which we had given up too much and been so generous. There was no talk at all about what North Korea has already done, the fact that they have suspended their nuclear testing and their intercontinental ballistic testing. They have destroyed their test mountain where they have done nuclear testing. And they have destroyed a rocket testing site. And it is interesting to me that all of the focus in the Western media has been on everything that the U.S. has done. We seem to forget what North Korea has done.

The Mennonite Central Committee has worked in North Korea for twenty years now. We do humanitarian work there and we visit regularly. And I can also say that in our last visit, there was a lot of encouragement from the people—a lot of excitement in North Korea about the changes that they felt were happening. Kind of summed up in they were looking forward to peace and a new beginning. So I think—I think there is a lot of optimism that things could actually change, that there could be reciprocal giving up of hostile activities on both sides, and moving towards a more friendly and collegial relationship, not only with the U.S. but with South Korea and many of its neighbors. Thank you.

KIM: Sure. So thank you, Doug, for the humanitarian work you do in North Korea. There’s a lot to be done in North Korea, so it’s great to have groups like yours working inside of North Korea.

I think you’re absolutely right that there is a new climate in North Korea. Kim Jong-un has made it very clear that he wants to economically develop his country. You can see him signaling this from his speech that he gave to the party before we met with the South Korean president, when he said: We’re not going to do this dual track approach anymore, where we focus on nuclear weapons and economic development. But we’re going to shift all of our attention to economic development. So I think there’s definitely a desire to do this. You know, this is something—economic development is something that he pledged to pursue since he came into power. And North Korea, since Kim Jong-un has come into power, has also changed a lot. Pyongyang is much more developed. They also legalized the jangmadang, which is basically a market system. And so you see a bunch of markets all around the country. And so it’s certainly a different place from Kim Jong-il or Kim Il-sung’s North Korea.

The desire for change is certainly there. You can see it in the way the North Korean state media covered Kim Jong-un’s visit to Singapore. They showed him—he took a walk around downtown Singapore, as I’m sure you guys saw in the pictures, and they published that. And that’s huge, that the North Korean media published that. So I think there’s a lot of signaling from the top that they want to go in a different direction. And I think this is great. And I think this is where the United States would have had some leverage in tapping into this enthusiasm and getting North Korea—using that enthusiasm as leverage to get North Korea to make commitments on dismantling its nuclear weapons program in exchange for all of these great possibilities in the economic realm. And I think that’s the leverage we lost by rushing towards the summit. If we had worked towards securing that kind of commitment, I think it would have put us in a better place.

HOSTETTER: I should also say that in conversation with North Korean diplomats here at the UN, they have expressed—especially in the last several months—a real commitment to denuclearization. And they say that the government position is for a total elimination of all nuclear weapons. They would like to live in a world, as would I, in which everyone got rid of their nuclear weapons.

KIM: I think that’s right.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from Barbara McGraw with Saint Mary’s College of California.

MCGRAW: Hello. Thank you for taking my questions.

One of the things that I’ve been wondering about are potential tensions in North Korea against the developments we’re talking about. Is just Kim Jong-un experiencing others within the government pressing against some of the reforms? I assume that’s true, since there have been some assassinations, et cetera. And I wondered how this also interplays potentially with, you know, the North Koreans taking a long view? And, you know, we have a president taking a particularly different approach than others have taken in the past. And he could he here only another—you know, to the end of this term, in 2020, or even if he has another term it’s still very short term in terms of what people want to see going forward. And I just wondered if those two things interplay in North Korea. But I’m particularly interested in what kind of tensions or opposition there might be in North Korea against these developments.

KIM: So thank you for your question.

I mean, I think with North Korea it’s always tough to tell what’s going on in the inside, just because of how opaque the system is. But I think you’re absolutely right. In any country, in any government, there are always conflicting bureaucratic interests. There are going to be people who want to do one thing, and others who want to stay with the old path. So I imagine there is conflict inside. Also recently Kim Jong-un swapped out three important military leaders from the old guard for younger folks. And some people were speculating that maybe he’s trying to clean up house before he shifts directions.

So I’m sure there are conflicts inside the government. It’s just hard to say exactly what it looks like, because it doesn’t play out in the media like it does in open societies. But I think Kim, just by going to Singapore, having his media cover his trip openly is significant. North Korea also brought out this special anchorwoman who they use for their most important announcements. She’s announced all of their nuclear tests in the past, for instance. And she was brought out this time when he left to Singapore to announce that he was going to seek a new relationship with the United States in light of a new era, or a changed era. So, again, I think this shows a lot of signaling from the top that they’re taking a different direction in North Korea.

I think you had a question about the fact that we may have a change in leadership. We have a democracy, so every four to eight years you have a new government in power. And what does this mean for negotiations with North Korea? This is absolutely something that the North Koreans are aware of. They know that we change leaders. And so they may choose to work quickly with our current leader, or wait him out if they find him, you know, not amenable to their demands. There are also concerns that one leader may give them security commitments, but the commitments may not be honored in the next administration. Of course, North Korea has concerns like that.

The Trump administration was talking about if it was to come to any sort of agreement with North Korea, it would want to make it a treaty so that the agreement could have Senate ratification. And doing this would ease some of North Korea’s concerns about the longevity of our commitments.

I think that’s a good idea. But, frankly, I’m not sure when we’re going to even have something close to a treaty to send over to Congress. But that is one way of ensuring that whatever we commit to can stay around for the long term.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from Majed Ashy with Merrimack College.

ASHY: Yes, hello. Thank you very much for your presentation. I have two quick questions.

The first one is about the role of women in this process. It seems like the sister of the leader of North Korea seems to play an important role in this.

And the second question, the implication of this process on the Middle East, given the Iran nuclear deal and also the relations that North Korea has with some states in the Middle East. Thank you very much.

KIM: What was the last one?

ASHY: It’s about the implications of this deal on the Middle East, given the relations that North Korea has with some states in the Middle East and also, like, providing weapons and other stuff, and also the Iran nuclear deal. Thank you.

KIM: Thank you. So all important points.

Starting with the role of women, it’s very interesting to see Kim Yo-jong, who is Kim Jong-un’s sister, who seems to be like a personal secretary to him. If you saw her during the summit, she would produce the pen for him so he could sign the document, and she pulls his chair out and pushed it back in. That’s her role. She sticks very closely by him. So she seems to have a lot of political clout, at least in terms of her proximity to the ultimate leader.

She also played a very pivotal role in North Korea’s Olympic outreach to South Korea. I think many people were charmed by her presence in South Korea, and so she seems to play a pivotal role. It’s not—I’m not sure how much decision-making power she has, but she’s sticking very close by Kim Jong-un.

In terms of implications for the Middle East, I mean, at this point it’s very hard to say. You know, we’re not even sure of—the joint statement that came out was very vague, so we’re not even sure what was agreed upon, if anything, in the back rooms. But I think just in terms of nonproliferation it becomes very dangerous if we de facto recognize North Korea as a nuclear power. I think this will have implications around the world—not just in the Middle East, but even in East Asia, and what this means for Japan or South Korea, if they start to feel insecure. Will they seek their own nuclear weapons? So I think there are many potential implications, but at this point it’s a little early to clearly determine what they are.

As for nonproliferation—or North Korea’s relationship with countries in the Middle East—there has been some speculation that North Korea has provided nuclear knowledge or parts to countries in the Middle East. And I think it was concerning that there was no mention of or no commitment by North Korea to nonproliferation in the statement that came out of this summit. I imagine this is something that will be discussed with Secretary Pompeo in following negotiations, but we haven’t seen anything concrete.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from David Wildman with the United Methodist Church.

WILDMAN: Yes, thank you very much for your comments.

And I appreciated the way you described the kind of backwards or top-down approach of this particular summit, and so my real question is around what you see as some practical next steps that would be most useful to kind of move the process forward. And particularly I’m thinking of where Trump made that announcement about stopping the military exercises; there’s already a lot of pushback, you know, as you and others have noted, from the militaries. You know, what kind of steps can we ensure that those exercises, those joint exercises, are suspended as a confidence-building measure, and things like an exchange of ambassadors?

And also, at some point, what’s the timetable you would like to see in terms of lifting of sanctions? Because I’m also in New York, and the UN special rapporteur on human rights noted that lifting sanctions and normalizing political relationships like an exchange of ambassadors are key steps that could help the overall human rights situation for people being detained in North Korea. Thanks.

KIM: OK. So thank you, David. A lot of great points there.

I think, as you say, it’s very important to build trust and to increase diplomatic interactions. I think that’s going to happen, especially with this summit and President Trump stating that he has a great relationship with North Korea, that it’s the start of a new relationship. So I think we will see more exchanges and perhaps a move to establish liaison offices or something like that. So not quite normalization of relations yet, but I think we’ll be moving that way as long as the nuclear negotiations continue.

In terms of lifting sanctions, yes, there are multiple sanctions in place and the question is which will be lifted, which will be not. I haven’t seen any good analysis on the best way to approach this yet. But in terms of sanctions President Trump made clear that they would stay on until North Korea takes concrete steps to denuclearize, and I think that’s very important.

And at this point, to ensure that the negotiations continue, to keep them motivated to stay on track, I think it’s very important to coalition-build, first of all with our allies so that we’re coordinated and they’re informed of what we’re doing, and also with China. I mean, the fact is China has the most economic leverage over North Korea. So I think we need to be working closely with Beijing to say, hey, we really need to enforce existing sanctions and not water them down or stop implementing them, like China seems to be doing right now, until North Korea takes concrete steps. I think that’s very important. That’s really the only leverage that we have that doesn’t veer into the military option, and no one wants to go there because it would be horrible. It would lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. And so that’s why it’s very important that we keep this economic leverage to keep North Korea on track.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from Kristina Olney with In Defense of Christians.

OLNEY: Thank you for your helpful presentation, Patricia. I have two questions.

The first is related to what you were just saying with regard to China. Specifically, can you please elaborate on what you think China’s aims going into the summit were, and how you think it might be using any potential outcomes of the summit for its own leverage with the United States, and what the potential risks of that might be?

And, secondly, piggybacking off of a question that was asked before with regard to human rights, do you think that human rights should have been given a higher priority by the United States in the negotiations?

KIM: OK. Thank you for these questions. Again, great points or great questions.

First of all, with China’s aim, so I think China’s ultimate vision for North Korea is that it becomes a stable authoritarian state that is politically and economically dependent or tied to Beijing. That is their ideal scenario for North Korea. And I think the summit opened that opportunity up, and so they’re very happy.

In terms of using the outcome of the summit for leverage, I think the biggest thing that they will hold us to is the fact that President Trump said that we are halting military exercises. If and when the United States restarts military exercises with South Korea, you can be sure that Chinese officials, North Korean officials, as well as some in South Korea who are opposed to the U.S.-ROK alliance, will point to these words and try to hold us accountable to them. Making that concession created a constraint on ourselves and on our alliance.

In terms of human rights, yes, again, I personally believe this should be a high priority, and I think the reality is denuclearization itself is such a tough topic that I’m sure it’s very hard to talk about both, especially when we’re not even getting movement on the denuclearization part. So I think it should be a priority, but I can see how realistically it will take a backseat when we’re talking to North Korea about its nuclear program.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from Tereska Lynam with the University of Oxford.

LYNAM: Hi. My questions may go out beyond your comfort zone, but I would appreciate your views nonetheless.

Using Trump’s absolutist language, is this “deal” with North Korea better or worse than the deal Trump scrapped with Iran?

And, especially given Trump’s hostile posture towards the G7 last week, where does this put the United States in a nuclearized world? For example, like, what does the nuclear world order look like now, in your opinion? Thank you so much for taking my question.

KIM: Sure. So the Iran deal and how this joint statement stacks up, I mean, it goes nowhere near to the specificity of the Iran deal. The Iran deal was over a hundred pages, whereas this statement was a page and a half. And there were many details worked out in the Iran deal about inspections and limits and all that. None of that is the joint statement that was released following the Singaporean summit. So, you know, that’s very concerning, and I think the hope is that the two sides can sit down and hammer this out. But now that the summit has happened, I just don’t know how much momentum there will be, and so we’ll have to see.

In terms of the G7 and what this means for the nuclear world order—so let me start with the aftermath of the G7. I think it was a very weak way to enter into the negotiations with North Korea, having alienated all of our allies. You know, many people pointed that out, and I don’t think it was a good negotiating strategy.

And in terms of the nuclear world order, what this means for nonproliferation, as I mentioned to someone before, I think we’re going to have to see how these negotiations play out. But if we leave North Korea as a de facto nuclear state, this will be horrible for nonproliferation, and it’s going to spark the desire in countries around North Korea to secure themselves with their own nuclear weapons. It could send a signal to others that are considering nuclear weapons that the United States may be willing to turn a blind eye. I think there could be many implications. So hopefully we don’t go there, and we’ll have to watch and see where the subsequent negotiations go. But it’s not looking too positive right now.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will come from David Wildman with the United Methodist Church.

WILDMAN: Hi. Thanks again.

Yeah, I just wanted to follow up on the nuclear piece. You know, with Trump and other—Pompeo and Bolton mentioning, you know, Libya extensively beforehand, I guess I’m wondering how much you think the summit has changed the rhetoric of what incentives are there for North Korea to actually—you know, we all want them to denuclearize, but in this context of quite recent belligerence of rhetoric, I guess I’m wondering what are the steps the U.S. might need to take to build confidence for that point in the—those four points of guaranteeing North Korean security so they would feel safe to denuclearize. Thanks.

KIM: It’s an interesting question: How do we make North Korea feel safe enough? Well, I think one thing that all the sides are exploring right now is a peace treaty, one where we declare an end to the Korean War, and we either give a negative or a positive security guarantee to North Korea. One guarantee that’s been offered in the past, for instance, in 2005, was in a statement where the United States declared that it had no intention to attack North Korea with conventional or nuclear weapons in exchange for North Korea agreeing to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. I think that’s a great place to go. And again, the language in the joint statement didn’t live up to that past agreement we were able to get in 2005, which would have been a good place to have started.

In terms of the Libya model, I mean, obviously, it’s unrealistic to think that the Libya model would have worked with North Korea. Their nuclear weapons program is much more extensive than anything Libya ever had. So realistically the process with North Korea is going to take much longer. And what I worry is that if the negotiations break down, this is going to give people like John Bolton the ability to make the argument that we can’t deal with North Korea anymore and that it’s time for them to go. I’m afraid we will go there if the negotiations break down going forward. Hopefully President Trump is invested enough in this process so that he keeps his attention on it so that doesn’t happen. But, you know, that is a possible scenario, and it would be very frightening.

FASKIANOS: Patricia, has there been any sort of timeline for the negotiations or to sort of—to hammer out the details with Secretary of State Pompeo and the North Koreans? Or is that sort of they signed the document and they will come back with sort of the next meeting time where they’re starting to work through these details?

KIM: From what I can see, at least from the outside, is that there is no timeline or negotiation schedule that’s been agreed upon. I think the only thing that they’ve revealed is that Secretary Pompeo will be sitting down soon—within the next week or so—with his North Korean counterpart, but that’s all we’ve heard so far. So there is no publicly released timeline. My guess is that there isn’t one. I mean, really, this summit was on and off and then on again, and there wasn’t really much time for our negotiators to sit down and hammer out these sorts of details.

One thing that struck me was when a member of the press asked President Trump, why didn’t we get a commitment on CVID or that kind of language in the joint statement, his answer was there wasn’t enough time. That really reflects what this process was like. It was a rush. There wasn’t enough time to hammer out the details. And so I think we’re going to have to watch and see where this goes.

FASKIANOS: And was this a strategic move to have the summit in order for our domestic—you know, the midterm elections are coming up—to have a win, so to speak?

KIM: I mean, perhaps. I think President Trump has always seen himself as somebody—a leader who can make this deal, you know. He said he’s been prepared his whole life for this, and I think he saw this summit as his historic opportunity to make peace on the Korean Peninsula. So he was very invested in this process.

And like I said, I think it would have served us better if we had taken more time to negotiate things at lower levels, and then work up to a summit. I think that would have been the better approach and we may have gotten more if we had done that. But instead, we started up at the top and in a rush. And I think we were hoping, well, maybe this unconventional method would yield an amazing result and it would be worth it. But we basically walked away with a very vague statement, with no new commitments by North Korea. And as an expert, I think that was a wasted opportunity.

FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you.

Are there any other questions?

OPERATOR: Yes. I’m showing we have a question from Hannah Stewart-Gambino with Lafayette College.

FASKIANOS: Wonderful. Hannah, over to you.

STEWART-GAMBINO: Great. Thank you so much for taking the question.

I think I want to follow up on the—on the last question in terms of what the next steps might be or sort of the politics of this. And I guess what I’m looking for is your opinion, Patricia, around—for those of us out here who are watching the news, sort of being spun for different political purposes, what might be some concrete things that we should look for to know this is working or heading in the right direction? So timelines, concrete things; not just what might be our next steps, but what should we be looking for? Because it sounds to me like the worry is this just sort of enters into this sort of vague stalemate that in some ways is better than the hostility of the last six or eight months, but is nowhere near achieving the hope; we just get kind of stymied. What can we look for and when should we look for it to know that the hope is actually being realized versus this was more for show than—and preferably better than hostilities, but not as good as we wanted?

KIM: Sure. So I think in terms of what we should look for from North Korea is, first of all, a declaration of all of its nuclear assets, its nuclear facilities. So basically, an accounting of its program. We’ve never had that from North Korea before. And I think that would be a very positive place to start if North Korea were to fully open itself up, if they list this is what we have—this is the extent of our program. And then the next step after that would be allowing in inspectors so that they can understand the extent of the program, so that they can monitor the freeze that North Korea says it has committed to. And then, after that, it would be reducing weapons and eliminating them. The ultimate goal is completely and irreversibly dismantling the program.

Now there have been debates about how long this process would take, and there’s one estimate that it could take up to fifteen years to dismantle North Korea’s entire program. While there are debates about how many years it would take, it certainly won’t be done in one or two. It would be a long-term process. But I think a very positive signal, first step—if North Korea was serious about this, is to see if they will declare what they have, give an accounting of their entire program, I think that would be the most positive. And perhaps we’ll get that out of the subsequent lower-level negotiations. I’m not sure. I think we’re going to have to watch and see.

FASKIANOS: So, Dr. Patricia Kim, thank you very much for sharing your analysis with us today, and for all of you for your comments and questions. We appreciate it. We’ll have to all watch what ensues from here and hope that it will lead to denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. So we all hope for that.

We encourage you to follow Dr. Kim’s commentary on U.S. foreign policy and the Korean Peninsula at CFR.org, as well as other Asia hands who are at CFR, as well as our own Twitter account, @CFR_Religion, for announcements about upcoming events and information about the latest CFR resources.

We look forward to having you join us for future calls and appreciate your being with us today. So thank you all.

KIM: Thank you.


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