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Trump Meets Kim at the DMZ: Useful Symbolism, but Little Substance Yet

June 30, 2019 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

The sight of President Donald Trump at the Demilitarized Zone
(DMZ) shaking hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and being
the first sitting U.S. president to cross over into North Korea was powerful
symbolism indeed. It suggested that the collapse of the Hanoi
summit may have been merely a temporary setback and the
rapprochement between the United States and the Democratic People’s
Republic of Korea (DPRK) was back on track. Whether or not that
assumption proves true depends very much on how realistic
Washington’s objectives are going forward.

Despite partisan sniping back home, Trump deserves credit for
making a serious effort to reduce the long-standing hostility
between Pyongyang and Washington. Nothing symbolizes that frozen
conflict more than the existence of the DMZ between North Korea and
U.S. ally South Korea. Despite its ironic name, the DMZ is the most
fortified border in the world. One should not dismiss the
importance of symbolism; the sight of the two leaders using the DMZ
as a cordial meeting place, and seeing an American leader enter the
DPRK (however briefly) sends a message that a more peaceful future
on the Peninsula is possible.

Trump continues to catch flak for his friendly relationship with
Kim and other foreign tyrants. Indeed, some critics allege that he
prefers them to democratic leaders. Although
Trump does sometimes go too far in expressing compliments to
autocrats in diplomatic settings, conciliatory rhetoric is
inherently a feature of successful diplomacy. The importance of the
personal relationship that the president is trying to develop with
Kim should not be underestimated, much less ridiculed. One
component of President Nixon’s rapprochement with China was his
conciliatory personal discussions with Mao Zedong and Zhou
Enlai.

Still, personal diplomacy and cordial summit atmospherics go
only so far in resolving difficult substantive differences. U.S.
leaders need to be far more realistic than they have been about
attainable objectives regarding North Korea. Concluding a peace
treaty with the DPRK formally ending the state of war on the
Peninsula certainly is achievable. Establishing formal diplomatic
relations between the two countries is entirely realistic and
appropriate. (Indeed, many experts believed that such an agreement
was going to emerge from the Hanoi summit.) Formalizing the current
informal arrangement in which North Korea refrains from conducting
nuclear and most missile tests in exchange for the United States
continuing to put its annual joint military exercises with South
Korea on hold is an achievable goal. Phased reductions in U.S.
economic sanctions in exchange for Pyongyang providing a
comprehensive accounting of its nuclear and missile inventories is
an attainable agreement.

Getting North Korea to give up its small nuclear arsenal and …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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