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Trump-Jong Un Meeting Cancelled, But Can the Talks Survive?

jdorsey0524koreasummit

Denuclearization, Libyan model, military exercises, and criticism in South Korea, we discuss it all with columnist James Dorsey, in Singapore

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

President Donald Trump canceled the June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Trump cited open hostility towards his administration for canceling the talks that were scheduled to take place in Singapore. In a letter addressed to Kim Jong-un, Trump wrote: “I was very much looking forward to being there with you. Sadly, based on tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate at this time to have this long-planned meeting,” Trump wrote. Now, Trump’s decision comes after a series of missteps and threatening statements by the Trump administration officials, which could be deemed hostile by the North Koreans. Here’s what Mr. Trump himself said at a joint press conference with NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg just Last week.

DONALD TRUMP: The Libyan model was a much different model. We decimated that country. We never said to Gaddafi, oh, we’re going to give you protection, we’re going to give you military strength, we’re going to give you all of these things. We went in and decimated him. And we did the same thing with Iraq. That model would take place if we don’t make a deal.

SHARMINI PERIES: Then Vice President Pence was asked about those statements, and particularly about the Libyan model, on Fox News.

MIKE PENCE: As the president made clear, you know, this, this will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong-un doesn’t make a deal.

REPORTER: Some people saw that as a threat.

MIKE PENCE: Well, I think it’s more of a fact.

SHARMINI PERIES: Then there was national security adviser John Bolton’s comments a few weeks ago.

JOHN BOLTON: I think that’s right. I think we’re looking at the Libya model of 2003-2004. We’re also looking at what North Korea itself has committed to previously. In the case of Libya, for example, and it’s a different situation in some respects. Those negotiations were carried out in private, they were not known publicly. But one thing that Libya did that led us to overcome our skepticism was that they allowed American and British observers into all their nuclear-related sites. So it wasn’t a question of relying on international mechanisms. We saw them in ways we had never seen before.

SHARMINI PERIES: Then we had Mike Pompeo on Face the Nation this weekend.

REPORTER: I’m wondering, in your interactions with Kim, because you’ve had them directly, have you assured him that the U.S. isn’t trying to oust him from power?

MIKE POMPEO: I have told him that what President Trump wants is to see the North Korean regime get rid of its nuclear weapons program, completely and in totality. And in exchange for that we are prepared to ensure that the North Korean people get the opportunity that they so richly deserve. It’s pretty straightforward. And I said earlier this week, I think in that sense Chairman Kim shares that same objective. I think he understands that President Trump has put an enormous pressure campaign in place with the aim of achieving a good outcome for North Korea and its people. That’s our objective. That’s the American goal that President Trump set forward.

SHARMINI PERIES: On to talk about all of this with me is James Dorsey. He’s a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, and he’s also a syndicated columnist and the author of the blog The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. James, good to have you back.

JAMES DORSEY: Pleasure to be with you, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: James, now, the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday said that President Trump canceled his planned summit with North Korea in part because of the United States did not receive replies from the North Koreans on preparations for the meeting. What do you make of this, and what’s really going on in terms of why both sides seems to be backtracking here?

JAMES DORSEY: I think there are several issues. One is the devil is in the details. So in other words, both sides nominally agree on denuclearization. It’s not clear to me that they understand, that they agree on what denuclearization means. It’s not clear to me that they understand, agree on how the process would go forward in terms of achieving denuclearization, and how the verification process would take place. On top of that I think you also have a number of misunderstandings, or missed, just missed connections, in terms of what both parties are saying, particularly with regard to the U.S. reference to what they have called the Libyan model.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, give us a brief history of that Libyan model. What is the understanding of the North Koreans when Americans say the Libyan model?

JAMES DORSEY: Essentially, the Libyan model is that in 2003-2004, Libya agreed in secret negotiations to totally dismantle its chemical weapons, and to give the United States access to the dismantling in order to verify that Libya had dismantled, and would not be able to build new chemical weapons. Several years later, in an independent development that had nothing to do with the chemical weapons issue, you had a popular revolt in 2011 in Libya in which United States and other countries intervened. Col. Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, was overthrown, and ultimately he was killed. In the North Korean mind those two developments are connected. With other words, they see the dismantling of the chemical weapons as having set the stage for the toppling of the regime.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. James, now, there are a number of issues that the North Koreans have cited as issues that they are not very happy about, and that is categorically getting rid of their nuclear program. Even before the talks have started, the Americans said this is almost a precondition for the talks. So there’s that issue. And also that North Korea just flatly rejects this Libyan model that you have just described. And also the exercises that are still under way between South Korea and the Americans in the peninsula. So these are all sticky points. There might be others. But what do you make of these points that the North Koreans are citing?

JAMES DORSEY: The public stand of the United States has been full, verifiable denuclearization. Once that has happened, then a process can get underway with North Korea is reintegrated into the international community, both politically and economically. What the North Koreans want, certainly given that there’s no basis for confidence with the United States, a process that is parallel. So with other words, as they dismantle, they are reintegrated as sanctions are lifted. What is clearly, what the North Koreans have said, there wasn’t, there were problems with the preparation of the summit. What they have actually been saying is that they haven’t had the time to thrash out these issues so that when they get to Singapore there actually is agreement on what denuclearization means, how it will happen, and how the lifting of the sanctions and the reintegration of North Korea will happen.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Now, what do you make of Pompeo’s statement that North Korea isn’t responding to meeting preparations.

JAMES DORSEY: Well, I think what you’re getting now is a back and forth in terms of a blame game. I also don’t think that necessarily the door on the summit, whether or not that will be on the 12th of June in Singapore or at a later point, in Singapore or somewhere else, has been closed. What I do think you’re getting a situation that is very tricky, in which on the one hand, on the positive side, if you wish, you’re creating space to thrash out the issues in advance of a summit, but at the same time you’re getting the use of language on both sides that easily could lead to an escalation.

SHARMINI PERIES: James, in terms of the military exercises with South Korea, initially the North Koreans have said that they didn’t have an objection to that, at least proceeding with these exercises, but now they’re citing it as a problem. What is the real story here? Are the North Koreans strictly using this opportunity of peace talks to curtail the exercises that are going on?

JAMES DORSEY: I don’t think that the exercises, as such, are the issue. You have the initial issue in the fact that the United States wanted to introduce B-52 bombers into the exercises. But then it withdrew those, those bombers. And if you look at it in a larger context, what that means is that both sides have made gestures. The United States has withdrawn the B-52 bombers. The North Koreans went to a series of gestures with South Korea, and earlier today dismantled their nuclear testing mountain. And so now I think you [get a situation] Koreans will feel, far more than the Americans, I think, that they’ve gone to great lengths to try and show goodwill, and that they aren’t being rewarded for that.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Now, let’s talk also about where all this leads South Korea in terms of their, I guess, diplomatic ventures of trying to bring both the United States and North Korea to the table.

JAMES DORSEY: I think what you’re seeing is, and it’s very early, early days, or actually early hours. Things are still developing. What you have seen is a lot of analysts predict that what this would mean is that South Korea would have far less confidence in the reliability of the United States as an ally, and may revisit its alliance with the United States. What you are actually seeing is initial reactions in terms of what people are saying in South Korea, as well as the South Korean media, is much more criticism of the South Korean president, and questioning to what degree South Korea has any kind of influence on the whole process. With other words, [inaudible] spoke to Washington, the South Korean president was there just two days ago, as well as influence in North Korea.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, James. Finally, do you think that the North and the South will continue its, its own talks between the two, and that that will lead to something constructive here?

JAMES DORSEY: Well, I’m sure that the South Koreans would like to maintain that dialogue. One litmus test will be whether the North Koreans are willing to do so. Ultimately, however, this is going to be an issue between the United States and North Korea. For North Korea it is about the United States, and the Trump administration has shown relatively little sensitivity to what South Korean concerns are.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, James, just one more issue. One of the plans in these peace talks was to eventually integrate the North Korean economy so that it does more trade with the United States and open up the markets. Now, this could be a welcome gesture on the part of the North Koreans that are suffering from a shortage of goods, and so forth. But at the same time, there was some conversation about that. This would actually mean that North Korea will become more like South Korea, become a market place for the United States. And this might be not a direction that the leadership of North Korea would like to see, a replication of what is happening in South Korea. What do you make of that?

JAMES DORSEY: Well, I think it’s certainly true that if the sanctions were lifted, and if North Korea were, would have free access to international markets, would be able to do trade and do business with the national community without restrictions, then obviously you would see tremendous economic developments in North Korea. And there are people who would argue that North Korea is perfectly capable of doing what South Korea did. So absolutely. But that is only going to happen if and when sanctions are lifted, and if anything I think in the current environment, if one wants to take President Trump by his word, you’re going to see a hardening of the embargo on North Korea rather than a softening.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, James, thank you so much for joining us today.

JAMES DORSEY: It was a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you so much. And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.