US-North Korean Summit Could Be a Good Start to Years of Negotiations

Statement By David Wright, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Jun 12, 2018

CAMBRIDGE, MASS. (June 12, 2018)—President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un met Tuesday for more than four hours to discuss denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. Trump promised to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea but said U.S. economic sanctions against North Korea would remain for now. A joint U.S.-North Korean statement said the two nations would “join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime” on the peninsula and would hold “follow-on negotiations.” No details were provided.

What are the prospects for a lasting agreement? David Wright, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and co-director of the organization’s Global Security Program, has written extensively on the North Korean nuclear program and U.S.-North Korean diplomacy. Below is a statement by Dr. Wright.

“UCS welcomes the outcome of the Singapore summit between the United States and North Korea. While not living up to the hype that preceded it, the U.S.-North Korean summit has served a very useful purpose: It appears to have set the two countries on a path to trying to solve the biggest issues between them, which led to fears of war only months ago.

“The fact that this process is beginning with highest level guidance from the two nation’s leaders changes the dynamics of previous negotiations. Perhaps even more important, the talks are starting with apparent good will on both sides and important concessions on the table: North Korea has promised to suspend its missile and nuclear tests and the United States has pledged to halt its military exercises with Seoul. If North Korea is really interested in reforming its international reputation, this is a good start.

“The joint statement signed at the summit, however, leaves the thorniest issues to be resolved. While it calls for ‘new U.S.-DPRK relations’ and restates Kim’s previous commitment ‘to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,’ it fails to address such key issues as verification, which stalled previous talks. The 1994 Agreed Framework set a precedent for inspections at North Korean nuclear sites, but dealing with undeclared sites and dismantling facilities will likely require years of work even with good will on both sides.

“Working through these issues will require sustained support from this and likely future administrations, as well as from Congress. While North Korea is often blamed for the failure of past negotiations, history shows that both countries were responsible.

“For decades, North Korean leaders have expressed the desire to end the hostility between the United States and their country, and ending that antagonism is likely fundamental to achieving a significant change in North Korean behavior. Yesterday’s summit signaled that the United States is open to better relations and set the stage for additional meetings, which are its most important accomplishments. My organization and others have long called for the United States to send a high-level representative to North Korea to lay the groundwork for serious talks, and the summit did just that.

“An unpredictable and fortuitous set of circumstances led to today’s events. Kim Jong-Un surprised the world by signaling in January an openness to better relations. South Korean President Moon responded to this opening with Olympic diplomacy and by arranging a North-South summit. And President Trump agreed to meet Kim early rather than late in the negotiating process. The key elements for progress appear to be in place, assuming both sides are committed to the same outcome.

“Now the hard work begins.”