After decades of escalating tension, the “North Korea problem” seemed to come to a boiling point within the last couple of years for a multitude of factors that I am far too unqualified to talk about. Whether it be Kim-Jong Un’s seemingly (keyword, “seemingly”) improving military capabilities or the new diplomatic strategy employed by American leadership, the dispute between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States of America seemed bound for a breaking point (“fire and fury” “dotard”, and the death of Otto Warmbier were just a few of major events that happened during this turbulent period).
But then, seemingly out of nowhere, as the year changed, so did North Korea’s tune. Kim-Jong Un proposed sending representatives to Pyeongchang for the 2018 Winter Olympics and the Seoul-Pyongyang hotline was reopened for the first time in two years. Before you knew it, North and South Korea were marching together in the Olympics opening ceremony and fielded a united women’s ice hockey team.
While south of the DMZ, the North Korean delegation passed an invite to South Korean President Moon Jae-in to visit North Korea. Wind the clocks forward to April 27, and the two Korean leaders held talks at the Peace House in Panmunjom, formally agreeing to end the Korean War (the inter-Korean conflict originally began in 1945!) before the end of the year. The images were stunning.
One of the first things I did was text one of my friends — an avid Trump supporter — and give the President credit. As I said at the beginning of this article, while I don’t know the exact degree of impact he specifically had on North Korea’s newfound desire for peace (sanctions placed on North Korean trade by China also played a role), I do know it’d be foolish not to acknowledge that President Trump had a role.
Then, in early May (about a week or so after the meeting between North & South Korean leadership) President Trump announced that he would be meeting with North Korean leadership in Singapore on June 12 with the intent of discussing the demilitarization of the DPRK.
Not only that, but on May 2, North Korea released three American prisoners who had been held in captivity as a gesture of goodwill. (three Americans — Kim Dong-chul, Kim Sang-duk, and Kim Hak-song — were released from a labor camp and given health treatment and ideological education in Pyongyang). For the first time in a long time, there seemed to be a light at the end of the “North Korea problem” tunnel.
However, on the week of May 14, North Korean leadership adopted a new, harsher tone, threatening to withdraw from the meeting. Furthermore, the DPRK claimed that they would “never agree to unilaterally surrender its weapon.” This sentiment was followed by further doubt from President Trump, who said in the Oval Office that there is a “very substantial chance that it won’t work out.” He clarified that while that “doesn’t mean that it won’t work out over a period of time, it may not work out for June 12.”
Then, on Tuesday, May 22, President Trump became more lenient on his stance, suggesting a phased dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which backed away from his original demand that Kim Jong-un must completely “abandon his arsenal without any reciprocal American concessions.”
The president’s hint of flexibility came after North Korea declared last week that it would never agree to unilaterally surrender its weapons, even threatening to cancel the much-anticipated summit meeting between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump scheduled for next month in Singapore.
Mr. Trump’s statement seemed less a policy shift than an effort to preserve his date with Mr. Kim. But while the gesture may avoid a swift rejection by Mr. Kim, it shows that Mr. Trump is willing to give up what for months has been his bedrock position in dealing with the North. And it demonstrates that three weeks before the June 12 meeting, the White House is still groping for a strategy to negotiate with a reclusive, suspicious nuclear-weapons state.
The scale of North Korea’s program, Mr. Trump said, would make it difficult to dismantle it in a single step. “It would certainly be better if it were all in one,” he said. “Does it have to be? I don’t think I want to totally commit myself.”
The president’s comments, delivered as he welcomed President Moon Jae-in of South Korea to the Oval Office, were the latest move in a battle of wits between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim, two leaders who both clearly want to talk but recognize the deep gulf that separates them.
Mr. Trump expressed continued enthusiasm for the meeting, saying he believed it could usher in a new era of prosperity for North Korea and safety for Mr. Kim. But he acknowledged that after North Korea’s shift in tone, the meeting could be delayed.
At the time of this writing, despite the apparent “tug of war” that seems to be happening between the two nations about the details of the hypothetical agreement, the meeting is still scheduled to take place in Singapore on June 12.