Achieving denuclearisation needs more time

March 01, 2019 - 17:43

Professor Lee Woong-Hyeon, Division of International Studies at the Korean University and President of the Korean Geopolitical Research Institute speaks to Vietnam News Agency about the outcome of the DPRK - USA Hanoi Summit and prospects of future negotiations.

Professor Lee Woong-Hyeon (right)
Viet Nam News

Professor Lee Woong-Hyeon, Division of International Studies at the Korean University and President of the Korean Geopolitical Research Institute speaks to Vietnam News Agency about the outcome of the DPRK - USA Hanoi Summit and prospects of future negotiations.

What is your assessment of the outcome of the Hà Nội summit? Why did it fail?

We don’t have any concrete information about what happened at the negotiating table between North Korea and the US. But with the press conferences by Donald Trump and North Korea’s foreign minister Ri Yong-ho, we can speculate there were some differences which led the summit to end without achievement.

First, there is the basic difference in diplomatic stance toward the nuclear issue of the two leaders, Trump and Kim. President Trump has approached this issue with the idea of a ‘package deal’, or ‘big deal’, namely CVID. This means complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement. This has been the policy of the Republican Party of the USA since the George H W Bush administration. But Chairman Kim Jong Un insisted on step-by-step denuclearisation alongside the US’s response in lifting economic sanctions. Kim has already announced his policy at last year’s meeting with Xi Jinping in Beijing.

On Thursday, Trump said he could not accept the North Korea’s demand to lift the sanctions in their entirety without the dismantlement of entire nuclear facilities as well as Yongbyon. And Ri Yong-ho, at the media conference, argued that North Korea demanded only the lifting of a few sanctions concerned with peoples’ livelihoods and economy. We can say that this elementary cleavage has not been narrowed in Hà Nội.

But if so, why did the two leaders come to Hà Nội with this disagreement? During the last couple of months, the working level diplomatic delegations of both sides must have negotiated and prepared the documents of agreements for signatories of two leaders. It is an indispensable procedure and preparations for any summit meeting. In general, the act of signing is just a diplomatic protocol.

In this respect, we can find out one more cause of the failure of the summit. It is the domestic political situation of the US. Now Mr. Trump is trapped by Congress concerning his scandalous acts during the election campaign. Maybe, Trump thought that ‘no deal’ is better than the ‘small deal.’ Returning home with marginal or trivial achievements from the summit, he thought, he will face fierce criticism. In this regard, the US is more responsible than North Korea for the failure of the summit. Of course, the North Korean delegation cannot be exempted from it because of their unpreparedness for the hard and tough negotiations with a critical issue like denuclearisation.

What do you think about Việt Nam’s hosting of this historic event?

The Vietnamese government showed its great capacity of hosting a historic event. There were no incidents which affected the summit. Vietnamese people showed a warm welcome and friendship to both countries’ leaders. No diplomatic mistake or error in protocol occurred during the two-day event. As one of the biggest trading partners of America, they welcomed the US President warmly in spite of the fact that the US invaded Việt Nam in the past. And with the hosting of the summit, all people around the world remembered that North Korea and Việt Nam were and still are traditional allies. As a central state of ASEAN, Việt Nam showed the world its status as a participating power in global diplomacy.

What do you think about Việt Nam’s status after the summit?

With this experience of successfully hosting a historic summit, Việt Nam became a diplomatically strong power in the world. Though the last summit didn’t have any progressive result, during the course of preparation for the summit the Vietnamese people showed their shrewdness and active cooperation with their government’s policy. From now on, so many countries will seek a safe and warm place for their diplomatic conferences and meetings in Việt Nam. Especially, Việt Nam would be a great investing country toward North Korea without being sanctioned in the future. A great power economically and politically, around the world as well as in East Asia.

What are the prospects for denuclearisation?

I’m not pessimistic on the future of this process of negotiation. As I said in the first interview with Vietnam News Agency, North and South Korea and the USA are now stepping towards the first stage of the whole diplomatic road to denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula. Basically, all kinds of diplomatic negotiations are thorny roads. Now we are beginning the long road. To reach the final stage of denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, it will take time, I think, a few more years.

Moon Jae-in of South Korea will soon initiate a diplomatic mediation for clearing this stalemate between North Korea and the USA. For the time being, it may be difficult to find a way out of the stalemate. President Donald Trump, however, called to President Moon for the role of mediation, and Trump and Kim departed with no criticism of each other.

Conversely, with this diplomatic fiasco, they confirmed their compassion for solving the problem and sense of unity toward this issue. Spending some time to save face after the diplomatic failure, and with South Korea’s diplomatic efforts for mediation, they will begin to talk about the return match for the nuclear issue. Maybe in the second half of this year. South Koreans are not so pessimistic in the long run. But it is a reality that we, North and South Korea and the USA, are still at the beginning. — VNS