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Walkout in Hanoi: The Second Trump-Kim Summit

“Sometimes you have to walk and this was one of those times.” That was US President Donald Trump’s remark about something he has been doing a lot of lately: walking away from agreements or understandings in the hope of reaching the ultimate deal. North Korea’s Kim Jong-un had been pressing his advantage in Hanoi with an attempt to convince Trump that sanctions needed to be eased. He ended up seeing the back of Trump after the appropriate handshakes.

The loose drama at such events is often hard to detach from the firmly rooted substance. Trump’s relationship with the accurate is tenuous and free flowing, so we have little to go on. Ahead of the meeting, the White House was busy sending various signals designed to baffle and confuse friend and foe alike. The president was keen to praise the “special relationship” with Kim, the sort of term reserved for gatherings such as those between the UK and US.

At the end of January, Stephen Biegun, designated special representative for North Korea in the US State Department, suggested that Pyongyang had made a commitment in pre-summit talks to eliminate uranium and plutonium enrichment facilities for a price. His mood seemed to jar with the more bellicose stance taken by national security adviser and pro-bombing enthusiast John R. Bolton and fellow belligerent companion and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

In carefully chosen words, the representative noted how, “Chairman Kim qualified next steps on North Korea’s plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities upon the United States taking corresponding measures.” Biegun was optimistic at the time, drawing upon themes of flexibility and novelty. “Neither leader is constrained by traditional expectations that might doom their teams to try the exact same approach as in the past, with no expectation of anything but the same failed outcome.”

The president’s preliminary chats over dinner with Kim prior to the formal summit did not give much away. “Great meetings and dinner tonight in Vietnam with Kim Jong Un of North Korea,” he tweeted. “Very good dialogue. Resuming tomorrow!” Those aching for detail were left disappointed. By breakfast the next day, things had cooled. Cancellations of a working lunch followed.

The smoke has yet to clear, and may be hovering for some time yet. But Trump was impressed by Kim’s offer to dismantle the enrichment facility at Yongbyon in its entirety (though it is clear that the totality of the DPRK’s capacity goes beyond it). The discussion and proposed transaction list seemed somewhat threadbare; a total lift of sanctions for Yongbyon’s dismantling? According to Trump, “Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, but we couldn’t do that.”

The response was not long in coming. Ri Yong-ho, North Korea’s foreign minister, suggested another version, somewhat more nuanced, less absolute: that only some sanctions be lifted in exchange for the permanent and complete dismantling of the main facility, verified by US experts. “Given the current level of trust between North Korea and the United States, this was the maximum step for denuclearization we could offer.”

Prior to the summit, there was a transfixed terror that Trump was going to give all earthly concessions, and a good number of goods on gold platter, to the North Korean leader. A bemused Trump simply deemed it “false reporting” on his “intentions with respect to North Korea.” Both parties would “try very hard to work something out on Denuclearization & then making North Korea an Economic Powerhouse.”

This was far from the case. As Joel S. Wit and Jenny Town note with some accuracy, “It’s ironic that while most pundits and the media kept up a steady drumbeat that he was going to give away the store, he did just the opposite, holding out for a better deal.”

The issues at stake here on the Korean Peninsula seem monumental, but when seen together, constitute the pieces of a jigsaw. Any comprehensive talks will have to address these, and this summit was evidently not going to do that. To only see one or two pieces in isolation (abductees, for instance, or the issue of exclusive, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation) is to ignore the numbers of steps in the entire affair.

Trust needs to be restored, a peace treaty neutering the war status of the Peninsula signed, undertakings against the use of force and hostile intent made with heft, and ultimately, an understanding that the parties at the negotiating table aren’t going to bump you off. Pyongyang is being asked to relinquish its highest grade insurance in the face of a superpower which has shown more than an unhealthy tendency to inflict regime changes with catastrophic consequences. Brinkmanship and theories of managed lunacy in the diplomatic realm will only get you to a point.

With Trump being advised by the likes of the gun slinging Bolton (known in North Korean circles as the paternal inspiration for Pyongyang’s nuclear program) and Kim ever mindful about the vulnerabilities of his regime, more walkouts are bound to happen. As Jeffrey Lewis rightly noted, the old guard (Bolton and company) represent “the cold wind” and “pretty much the rest of the government bureaucracy.” The warmth of reform in securing peace on the Korean Peninsula, spurred on by the fanning of South Korea’s Moon Jae-in and the likes of Biegun, act as counters. This walkout, at least, means that each can live to talk another day, though it will keep their respective public relations teams busy.

As matters stand, there will be no resumption of North Korean ballistic and nuclear testing, and a promise for more negotiations. The chatter will continue, and channels will remain open. As for Trump itself, “This wasn’t a walkaway like you get up and walk out. No, this was very friendly. We shook hands.”

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  1. Jack Cade

    North Kores DARE NOT ditch its nuclear capacity. And the world should not urge it to do so, appalling as Kim is. Very few nations are as appalling as the USA, which needs wars. It has intervened in 80+ countries since WW2, and is planning to invade Venezuela right now, promoted by a need to have a bogeyman, expecting Kim to fade away.

  2. Max Gross

    If North Korea had no nukes the US would have invaded decades ago. Kim will never give up his only TRUMP card.

  3. Keith Byatt

    Kim has seen what happend to Sadam in Iraq when he gave up his weapons. He will never give them up. Look towards a nuclear test in the coming weeks.

  4. Wat Tyler

    The world has ‘eliminated many diseases’ from the earth.
    But one nation has phials of smallpox stashed away.
    Which nation?
    The nation that used smallpox to rid its land of troublesome native peoples.

  5. Matters Not

    When it comes to Vietnam, Donald Trump can’t take a trick – a case of recurring bone spurs – stops him going there initially and then hurries him home apparently.

    As for North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons – clearly those who entertain that nonsense have never read anything about what is called The Forgotten War.

    The war devastated Korea. Historians said that between three million and four million people were killed, although firm figures have never been produced, particularly by the North Korean government. As many as 70 percent of the dead may have been civilians.

    … Destruction was particularly acute in the North, which was subjected to years of American bombing, including with napalm. Roughly 25 percent of its prewar population was killed, Professor Cumings said, and many of the survivors lived underground by the war’s end.

    “North Korea was flattened,” he said. “The North Koreans see the American bombing as a Holocaust, and every child is taught about it

    Yes – every child is taught about it. Tis a pity that Trump et al appear to know nothing of it.

  6. Kronomex

    I’m betting that “The Great Negotiator” threw a hissy fit because North Korea didn’t immediately see that they were outclassed by the very stable genius and worlds best at everything. Kim Jong-Un also played The Donald for the fool he is.

  7. Michael Taylor

    Donald Trump only had one job to do. One.

  8. Wat Tyler

    John Pilger said, the other day, that despite all Trump’s many faults, his apparent determination to get a detente with Russia, and North Korea, has upset all the corporates in the USA because if he succeeds, their arms empires will collapse.

  9. Lambert Simpleton

    How does Dr Kampmark continue to issue forth such fine analyses on such clouded subjects?

  10. Lambert Simpleton

    Wat Tyler, that is not the most silly suggestion I have read this year.

  11. Perkin Wartkill

    Lambert Simpleton.
    That’s what I thought. The idea is they will bring him down if he gets detente with Putin and Kim, UNLESS HE GETS THEM ANOTHER WAR.
    Hence Venezuela, and Mike ‘eyes like pissholes in snow’ Pence is their Plan B. A warning to the apricot arsehole that they don’t really need him.
    That’s my theory, not Pilger’s.

  12. Kronomex

    Whenever I see photos, like the one at the top of article, of The Donald his face always reminds me of the deformed head of a blow up doll.

  13. Lambert Simpleton

    Am considering the implications of that, Kronomex and not feeling so good.

    Quick Pells, anyone?

  14. Zathras

    The more complete history of US relations with North Korea seems to avoid mention of the Agreement Framework with Kim Jong Il that was intended to convert their reactors to the Light Water version that did not produce weapons grade output but the US effectively reneged and walked away from that agreement as well, leading to the current situation. They assumed that Kim Jong Un would be too weak to maintain control. However, North Korea’s subsequent nuclear development has paid off for them diplomatically.

    The USA also reneged on the promised rebuilding of “post-war-with-Russia” Afghanistan after the USSR collapsed, leading to terrorism and the rise of militant Islam.

    Everything the USA does eventually seems to comes back at them in some negative way and Trump is certainly not the right man for this job.

  15. Alcibiades

    Matters Not

    Indeed a Forgotten War, one never declared formally as such, merely a ‘Police Action’ according to that weasel Truman. Countless veterans were denied various benefits as a result, for example POW survivors of a massacre, never received POW benefits, as there hadn’t been a ‘war’.

    Also, Australia and all the ‘allied’ nations that went to war under US command, are still legally at war’ with Nth Korea & China, as there was never a peace treaty, only a cessation of hostilities, authored by military commanders, not the relevant nation states nor authorised plenipotentiaries. Fancy that.

    Due to a brief temporary boycott of the UNSC by the USSR, the US avoided a soviet veto, and obtained command of willing ‘allied’ nations military forces contributions under a UN Security Council mandate. It is under that resolution that the US has maintained a war fighting capability on Sth Korean soil ever since.

    After the Pusan breakout/Inchon Landings, initial Nth Korean forces were virtually annihilated and the ‘Allies’ were approaching the Chinese border re the Yalu river, the ‘Volunteer Chinese Forces’ swept across the Yalu and drove them all the way back to ~ the 48th(?) parallel, where trench warfare commenced and the lines largely stayed static for the remainder of open hostilities.

    The warmonger MacArthur demanded the authorisation to use and the release of nukes. Short version, Truman dismissed him.

    Now here’s the kicker, when the US Congress investigated the why the ‘Chinamen’, with no navies, no Airforce of any consequence, no Armored forces, little artillery, hadn’t been rolled up and defeated, and why the US Forces and allies were not allocating sufficient overwhelming conventional military power to achieve this promptly … the answer was … every since available combat unit, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines was committed to action, the cupboard was bare. With total air superiority, complete control of Koreas east & western seaboards with carrier taskforces on rotation to each, the re-constituted Nth Korean army, and the Chinese Volunteer Forces, a peasant based small arms only army … could not be beaten … on the battlefield.

    Things have changed much re the conventional balance since ’53.

    The Forgotten War Indeed.

    Q. What has been the US motivation to maintain hostilities, to in fact defeat and occupy Nth Korea, for 66 years now, after all they have no Oil or Gas, hm ?

  16. Lambert Simnel

    In the meantime, the Americans arranged with Syngman Rhee to murder 600,000 “dissidents” in the South.

  17. Jack Cade

    I read somewhere that one of the demands the US made of Britain to justify the ‘aid’ they gave when they finally joined the European theatre in WW2 was access to the nuclear fission information they had.

  18. Alcibiadies

    Ah, Rhee.

    Immediately after the surrender of Japan the US redeployed troops to Sth Korea, the Soviets had occupied Nth Korea. The US appointed military governor dismissed the native formed representative government, and then spent the next three years ‘pacifying’ the populace, having flown Rhee to Korea & ‘Provisionally’ installed Rhee. A rabid anti-communist.

    Koreans, having been brutally colonially occupied & exploited, by Imperial Japan for decades, were now tasting US ‘Freedom & Democracy’ for those 3 yrs, then under imposed ‘President’ Rhee from ’48 onwards, his fellow travellers, under the weight of the CIA, KCIA, and ‘benevolent’ US military ‘assistance’.

    Rhee was bad, Park Chung-hee was arguably as bad or even worse …

    Nth Korea actually invaded ‘first’, unprovoked, an undisputed ‘fact’ ?

  19. Alcibiades

    Jack Cade

    Yep, the ‘Aluminium Tubes’ project IIRC. US agreed to share all nuclear technology with the Brits and vice versa, limited side agreement also with Canada.

    US unilaterally revoked the deal, as they like to do, in the late ’40s, IIRC.

  20. Jack Cade

    As the saying has it…’with friends like these…’

  21. Alcibiades

    Jack Cade

    Friends like these indeed … the recent Munich Security Conference demonstrated the ‘Atlantic Alliance’ is on life support, and failing.

    Trivia time: Well, read a global citizen survey the other day, the US is considered favourably by ~31% of the earths population, Russia ~30% ?.

    Given the endless ‘black’ propaganda and false flag narratives we are fed by a suborned corporate media, am surprised the US still even achieves that.

    The Trump & Co has acted as an accelerant on ‘PAX Americana’, like petrol tossed on a bonfire, IMHO

    Times, they are a changin’ ?

  22. Kronomex

    ‘Pox Americana’ more like it.

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