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Hanoi summit

March 02, 2019

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WHILE some foreign policy observers have described the recent summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi as a ‘failure’, perhaps it would be premature to rush to judgement. After all, in international diplomacy there are very few overnight successes, and seemingly intractable disputes take time and effort to resolve. This is the two leaders’ second meeting; the first was arranged last year amidst much fanfare in Singapore. As per the reports emerging from the Vietnamese capital, North Korea was expecting full sanctions relief, while the US wanted Pyongyang to shut down its nuclear programme entirely. Expectedly, neither was willing to budge from its maximalist position, and the summit wrapped up without any significant agreement. However, as is clear from the statements of the US leader — “We just like each other”, he said while referring to Mr Kim, while calling the Korean strongman “a character” — the possibility of future talks between the two states cannot be ruled out. Moreover, the diplomatic activity and exchange of pleasantries is in stark contrast to the name-calling both leaders indulged in not too long ago.

But beyond the photo ops and headlines, it will take significant effort to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula, perhaps the last Cold War battlefield. The goal should be to bring North Korea out of isolation and integrate it into the global mainstream. For that, the US needs to seriously consider lifting sanctions as a genuine gesture of peace towards North Korea. In return, Pyongyang should agree to reduce its nuclear arsenal and pledge not to threaten any state with the weapons. Of course, this is easier said than done. However, China — considered North Korea’s closest foreign ally — can play a role by convincing Pyongyang that it is better to engage with the world than to remain in isolation, while the more economically prosperous South Korea can also offer its neighbour incentives for peace. Also, while the bilateral efforts may produce results, perhaps a multilateral effort — led by the UN — would bear more fruit where bringing North Korea in from the cold is concerned. The communist state must be assured by the global community that its security will be promised and sovereignty respected. With bold diplomatic steps and a workable plan, it may be possible to bring peace and democracy to the Korean Peninsula, perhaps paving the way for eventual reunification.

Published in Dawn, March 2nd, 2019