Editorial: U.S.-North Korea summit: Denuclearization process needs to be developed as soon as possible

The first-ever summit between the U.S. and North Korea, two countries that have been adversarial for years, has finally materialized.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, North Korean leader and chairman of the Korean Workers’ Party, held the historic talks in Singapore. They signed a joint statement, which includes the promise by North Korea to “work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Until recently, the two leaders had been lobbing threats at one another, hinting at the potential use of nuclear weapons. Mr. Trump denigrated Mr. Kim with the term “rocket man” while the North Korean leader retorted by calling the president a “dotard.” I welcome their decision to sit at a table to solve the issues through dialogue instead of force.

Detailed process needs to be worked out immediately

The denuclearization of North Korea (which was the focus of the summit) was included in the joint statement, but the statement remains no more than a general framework for progress.

North Korea has expressed its willingness for “complete denuclearization” before the summit, but since denuclearization is not an easy task, it is regrettable that a future detailed process is not described in the statement. This leaves us with a sense of unease.

It also disturbs me that abstract language is frequently used in the joint statement. Mr. Trump’s overrating of the statement at the press conference right after the meeting is also unusual.

The United States and North Korea have discussed the nuclear (and missile) issue over and over, and they have even reached an agreement for denuclearization of the North in the past. Despite these efforts, however, North Korea has broken its promises and disappointed us.

Before the summit, Mr. Trump said, “We will not repeat the mistake of past administrations” and that “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” (CVID) was what he wanted to achieve.

Despite this declaration, the joint statement appears rather vague when compared to past U.S.-North Korea agreements – including the joint statement released during the six-party talks in 2005. It also lacks a detailed process or timetable for the CVID.

If Mr. Trump regards the U.S.-North Korea summit as simply the “beginning of the process,” he should quickly follow-up with actions that outline future steps as early as possible.

The U.S. and the North have built confidence with each other

They need to make a plan immediately to pave the way for the denuclearization, in which North Korea declares its nuclear material and nuclear-related facilities accurately, takes them out of the country and accepts verifications and inspections by international organizations.

To help achieve that end, the statement says the two countries “commit to hold follow-on negotiations… at the earliest possible date,” and that the U.S. and North Korea will hold a high-level meeting to work out those details next week. Hopefully, steady progress would be made to achieve this goal.

The declaration of the end of the Korean War, which was another focus of the talks, was not mentioned in the statement. Although both Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim expressed their willingness to work on a conclusion of a peace agreement, denuclearization might have been the higher priority on their agenda.

Even after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Cold-War structure remains on the Korean Peninsula despite having moved from one century into the next. In the statement, both countries mention a need to establish “new relations” in the pursuit of peace.

In later comments, Mr. Trump stressed that he successfully developed a trusting relationship with Mr. Kim, and certainly, the summit begins what looks to be a good first step toward continued confidence building between the two leaders.

However, a challenge may exist in North Korea’s request that the U.S. “remove the military threat” for true reconciliation to occur. At the press conference, Mr. Trump said he would “halt military exercises with South Korea while talks between the U.S. and North Korea continue.” The U.S. should not only ask the North to give up nuclear arms but also work to reduce their military capability in the future.

Japan’s diplomatic power is tested

Many people remain concerned about the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents decades ago. When asked about it by a reporter, Mr. Trump only said that he raised the issue in the meeting. Unfortunately, we don’t know how Mr. Kim responded. It may not be the satisfactory outcome for the family members of the abductees.

Properly speaking, finding a way to negotiate with North Korea is an issue the Japanese government has to deal with. "I'm determined that Japan will have to directly face North Korea and resolve (the abduction issue) bilaterally," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters after Mr. Trump’s press conference. That’s only natural.

Japan’s diplomatic power, which we have to admit lacks visibility so far, will be tested from now on.

Japan does fall under the American “nuclear umbrella,” but that is the reason why the country needs to work toward security without relying on nuclear weapons. Only being hostile to the North will not change the situation. Japan should hammer out new diplomatic strategies in preparation for the turning point of the Cold War structure on the Korean Peninsula, as it would also help solve the abduction issue.

(Originally published on June 13, 2018)