Will Trump Offer Peace Declaration as Tradeoff for North Korea’s Denuclearization?

China Watching, Waiting for Progress at Hanoi Summit

This week in Hanoi, the lights will be shining brightly on U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Not far away from that big stage, China will be watching closely and if all goes smoothly, asserting that it too has played a role in efforts to promote peace on the Korean peninsula.

Kim arrived in Hanoi on Tuesday, a journey by train and automobile that lasted more than 60 hours and took him from the Northeast of China to the Vietnamese capital.

For his trip, China has once again ensured Kim's security as he traveled. For the first summit in Singapore, Kim flew on a chartered jet that Beijing provided. This time he was given an escort across the country, sparking complaints online about traffic restrictions that Chinese authorities eventually censored.

Slow train through China

Lu Chao, a North Korea expert at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, said there was nothing strange about Kim's travel arrangements.

This is just one of his choices of transportation, Lu said. And perhaps since he is traveling all the way from the north to south of China, across all of China, it might give him an opportunity along the way to see different parts of the country.

He said that while there was speculation that Kim might stop in Beijing on his way to Hanoi, there was no need for that as Kim and China's President Xi Jinping met in early January and had in-depth talks about the Hanoi summit.

Perhaps after the meetings in Hanoi, on his way back through China, Kim will deliver a short report to China's leader, Lu said.

Lips and teeth again

Lu added that such close communication was a long-established tradition between the two countries. The relationship between China and North Korea has often been described as being as close as lips and teeth, but for the first five years while Xi Jinping was in office, some felt the relationship had had its teeth knocked out.

China joined other nations in sanctioning Pyongyang in response to its repeated missile and nuclear tests and it wasn't until March of last year that Xi Jinping met with Kim for the first time. Since then, they have met on multiple occasions for extended periods of time, noted Alexander Neill, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore.

China as North Korea's only ostensible ally, China wants to be seen as the key stakeholder in this whole initiative, Neill said.

Now, Beijing is choreographing the relationship as something that is more than just tentative, he said.

I think Xi Jinping, quite fairly, wants to be seen not only as an arbitrator, but perhaps someone who has been proactive in initiating this sort of a dialogue, he said.

Hanoi limbo

Just how much praise China can claim, however, depends on how much progress is made in Hanoi. And how much progress can be made will depend on what the two can agree on in terms of denuclearization and what steps Washington is prepared to take in response.

In China there is hope that progress will be made, but clarity that big differences still remain, Lu Chao said.

For this summit, while we may not believe that there will be comprehensive progress, we do hope that some encouraging progress will be made that heads in that direction, Lu said.

Progress that could at least lead to a loosening of sanctions, he added.

In the United States there is concern that President Trump may lower the bar too far when it comes to the question of what actions might qualify Pyongyang to receive a loosening of sanctions.

Those concerns are being echoed in commentaries in China as well, said David Kelly, research director at China Policy, a Beijing-based research group.

There is a lot of theatrical elements in this (summit). Everyone is being massaged to expect friendly faces, a nice lunch, nice meetings and nice communiques, but there is a lot of fine detail that we will need to see in the commentary (that follows in China), Kelly said. I really don't see China being less concerned about the Korea issue.

Officially, China will want to claim to be the patron of the summit, the ringmaster, but it remains to be seen whether Trump may be able to pull Kim a little closer to Washington, Kelly said.

There is definitely concern in China that that could happen, he added.

This is what they were worried about last year and there is no reason to think that those fears have ended, Kelly said. Beijing is not as secure in its hold over North Korea as it claims and as a lot media believe.

Source: Voice of America

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What to Expect from the US-North Korea Summit in Vietnam

WASHINGTON President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un will meet this week in Vietnam for a second summit on denuclearization. In an interview Monday with VOA News Center Deputy Managing Editor David Jones, VOA's Korean Service Chief Dong Hyuk Lee talked about the outcome of the 2018 summit and what can be expected from the meeting in Hanoi.

Jones: Do you believe Kim Jong Un is serious about ever giving up his nuclear program? What do you think he wants in exchange?

Lee: One thing is really important here: Kim Jong Un has never promised to unilaterally denuclearize his country. What he has promised to do is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Now, the U.S. maintains that the denuclearization of the peninsula, in essence, means the denuclearization of North Korea, because there are no nuclear weapons in South Korea. From the North Korean perspective, it's a different story. North Korea believes that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula requires the removal of the U.S. nuclear umbrella, which has larger implications. So, the definition of denuclearization is critical. And so far, it is unclear whether both sides have an agreement on that definition.

Jones: Do you believe the way is free for Kim to actually go ahead with this deal? Is there opposition within North Korea, within his government or military? What kind of an obstacle does that present?

Lee: Most North Korea watchers would agree there's no clear indication that there's a serious opposition or challenge to Kim Jong Un's nuclear policy inside the country. Having said that, due to the nature of the regime, and it's a system, one cannot completely rule out anything. Maybe down the road, at some point, Kim Jong Un might face some sort of a pressure, internal pressure, I'll say, for more freedom and openness.

Jones: What has the North Korean public been told about this process? Do they understand what's going on, and what do they expect?

Lee: Well, it's hard to tell how well informed the North Korean public is about the situation. I will say there was no major development on the nuclear issue. In the country, the current talks with the U.S. are portrayed as Kim Jong Un's efforts to revive the country's economy and promote peace on the peninsula and renormalize relations with the United States.

Jones: What are the expectations and understanding among the South Korean public?

Lee: The majority of South Koreans hope that the second summit will produce some sort of substantive result. That doesn't mean the majority of South Koreans are optimistic about the prospects for the summit. For example, there is a fair amount of skepticism. In the country, a lot of conservatives view President Moon's (Jae-in's) policy that favors reconciliation and engagement with North Korea with deep, deep skepticism.

Jones: Trump and Kim met before in Singapore and came out with a grand pronouncement about peace. What has actually been accomplished since then?

Lee: North Korea has basically suspended the test of nuclear weapons and missiles. In Bhutan, the U.S. has suspended joint drills with South Korea. As a result, tensions between the two Koreas, and tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, have substantially deescalated. There has not been much progress on the nuclear issue.

Jones: The U.S. initially was demanding complete denuclearization on the North's side before they can be relieved from sanctions. Now, they seem to be more open to a step-by-step process. Is that correct?

Lee: What has become sort of an evolution or change from the previous position as you described is now, the U.S. Is more open to taking corresponding measures in return for North Korea's action toward denuclearization. That's separate from a step-by-step approach to denuclearization. I think the U.S. is still highly interested in having a big package deal in which they are open to taking corresponding measures, again, in exchange for North Korea's action.

Jones: The North also seems interested in some kind of treaty to formally end the Korean War after all these decades. Do you think that will come up this week?

Lee: It could. I think if there is any agreement on that issue, it will be more like a bilateral one. Remember, China is one of the parties who was involved in the whole process. So, I don't think they'll have time to have China on board. So, if you have any agreement on that declaration, it'll be something between the United states and North Korea.

Jones: What can we realistically expect to come out of this summit?

Lee: First, we have to think about what the key difference is between the two sides. North Korea puts high priority on normalizing relations with the United States. So, their view is, denuclearization can come as a result of normalized relations between the United States and North Korea. The United States puts a high priority on denuclearization � North Korea's denuclearization. So, it's vice versa. The U.S. views that normalized relations could come as a result of North Korea's denuclearization.

So, how much both sides can bridge the gap, is a key question. North Korea has offered to dismantle its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon contingent upon unspecified corresponding measures from the U.S. side. They also proposed to dismantle its missile launch site, and possibly allow nuclear inspectors to their nuclear test site to check or confirm the status of the site.

Well, North Korea also demands possibly sanctions relief, and they're also seeking some sort of security guarantee from the U.S. side. The U.S. is interested in possibly offering the establishment of liaison offices in both capitals.

Source: Voice of America

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Will Trump Offer Peace Declaration as Tradeoff for North Korea's Denuclearization?

WASHINGTON As speculation focuses on the possibility that President Donald Trump may declare peace, and end the Korea War at his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, experts see such as move as a possible trade off for Pyongyang's denuclearization.

We want denuclearization, Trump said on Monday before leaving for Hanoi to meet with Kim on Feb. 27 and 28. And I think he'll have a country that will set a lot of records for speed in terms of an economy.

The leaders first met in Singapore in June, a summit widely criticized for the lack of concrete progress. They signed a four-point document calling for new relations between their two countries, peace on the peninsula, denuclearization and the recovery of remains of American servicepersons killed or missing in North Korea.

Trump's remarks on Monday came as the White House released a statement on Thursday calling for a push for peace saying that Trump is committed to achieving transformational peace for the Korean Peninsula with a possible consideration of economic inducements such as ways to mobilize investment and improve infrastructure.

During his speech delivered at Stanford University at the end of January, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Steve Biegun, said Trump is committed to once and for all bringing an end to 70 years of war and hostility on the Korean Peninsula.

Biegun continued, President Trump is ready to end this war. It is over. It is done.

The U.S. envoy further said Washington is considering putting in place necessary conditions to fundamentally transform U.S.-North Korean relations and establish a peace � a permanent peace � on the Korean Peninsula.

A declaration of peace � an announcement declaring the end of the Korean War that ceased in 1953 with an armistice rather than a peace treaty � is emerging as a likely move that Trump could make at the summit this week in Hanoi, chosen in part to show Vietnam's economic development.

An armistice such as the one that ended the fighting in the Korean War is a formal agreement to cease all military operations in a conflict, which means a war ends without a formally established peace. That requires a peace treaty, which must be negotiated and ratified by the involved entities.

Ken Gause, director of the International Affairs Group at the Center for Naval Analyses, said, A declaration of peace is something Trump could offer depending how the negotiations go.

A declaration of peace, unlike a peace treaty, will not carry a legally binding weight but it will serve as a gesture to improve relations, according to Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

This would be a gesture symbolizing better or less, tense relations, but not really a substantive change, said Manning, adding, The risks of a declaration are in confusing the world that real progress has been made.

Dennis Wilder, the National Security Council's former senior director for East Asia affairs during the George W. Bush administration, said a gain for both Washington and Pyongyang would be a lowering of tensions and building trust but the declaration of peace must be followed by concrete confidence building measures.

It would not have any practical effect unless the parties agree to other confidence [building] measures such as the movement of the large number of artillery pieces on the North Korean side of the demilitarized zone away from the border to [a] peacetime posture, Wilder said.

And while a peace declaration to end the war would be a first step that could lead to a peace treaty, Gause said other important intermediary steps need to be taken before a formal peace treaty is signed.

Such steps would involve increasing concessions on both sides to a point when a grand bargain � denuclearization for security and economic guarantees � can take place, Gause said.

A peace treaty will also require a consent by China, one of the signatories to the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement along with the U.S. and North Korea.

If a declaration to end the war is made, China will likely begin to push the U.S. and South Korea to move faster toward a peace treaty which will weaken U.S. justification for presence on the peninsula, according to Gause.

Wilder said a peace treaty would be a very big decision because it would likely be the beginning of the end of U.S. forces on the peninsula.

The U.S. currently has about 28,500 troops in South Korea.

Trump has said the cost of keeping the U.S. forces in South Korea is very expensive but dispelled concerns over removing the troops by saying, I have no plans. I've never even discussed removing them anytime soon during an interview on the CBS television show, Face the Nation earlier in February.

According to Wilder, a peace treaty will not lead immediately to unification of the two Koreas.

A peace treaty does not necessarily mean quick movement toward reunification of the peninsula, Wilder said. That is a separate issue and would involve a major decision by North Korea to alter its form of government and its economy.

Gause said, Neither Seoul nor Pyongyang will want to subjugate itself fully to the other.

He continued, Over time (probably decades), the two system will begin to meld which would pave the way to full unification. This, of course, assumes that North Korea doesn't collapse first.

A pathway toward a peace treaty beginning with a peace declaration may be what the U.S. could offer as one of corresponding measures that North Korea sought in return for dismantling some of its nuclear facilities.

In his Stanford speech, Biegun said Washington is seeking to find out what corresponding measures Pyongyang wants as qualifying steps toward the dismantlement of its nuclear facilities. He stressed that Kim committed to the dismantlement and destruction of North Korea's plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities which extends beyond Yongbyon when Kim met with Pompeo in Pyongyang last October.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Kim pledged to shut down the Yongbyon nuclear facility if the U.S. matched its offer with reciprocal measures during the inter-Korean summit held in Pyongyang in September.

Siegfried Hecker, a leading nuclear scientist at Stanford University and former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory has visited the Yongbyon nuclear facility several times. He said offering to dismantle the Yongbyon facility at the summit would be a big deal because North Korea has no reactors outside of Yongbyon.

Hecker said, No Yongbyon, no plutonium. He continued, Shutting down Yongbyon will also greatly reduce the amount of highly enriched uranium they can produce.

Processing plutonium and enriching uranium are two pathways to make weapons grade nuclear materials.

However, Hecker said, They have at least one undisclosed centrifuge facility outside of Yongbyon that would have to be shut down. Centrifuges are used to enrich uranium.

The Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center is the heart of North Korea's nuclear development and holds the country's main nuclear reactor. North Korea shut down the main reactor in the 1990s under an agreement reached with the U.S. but restarted it in 2003 when the deal broke down. Under another deal in 2007, the reactor was shut down again, only to be reopened when that deal also fell apart.

Source: Voice of America