Donald Trump has said that under the «right circumstances» he would be «honored» to meet with Kim Jong Un – a «pretty smart cookie» as the President called the North Korea’s leader. «If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honored to do it», he told Bloomberg on May 1. Since coming to power in 2011, Kim Jong Un has neither left his country nor met a foreign leader.
Direct talks with the North Korean leader are the only way to bring an end to the conflict and reduce tensions raised by the nuclear program and missile tests. The idea is not new. During the election campaign Donald Trump said he would like to eat a hamburger with Kim Jong Un.
If President Trump achieves progress, he will pave the way for resuming the international effort to boost international security. The Six-Party talks on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, bringing together South Korea, North Korea, the US, China, Japan and Russia, were suspended in 2008 at Pyongyang’s initiative.
It’s important to let Pyongyang know that the acquisition of intercontinental nuclear capability is not the only way for the regime to survive. If survival is the name of the game, than North Korea should be given a chance. The alternative – a military action – is fraught with too many risks. If diplomacy works, Donald Trump will go down in history as a great leader who reached a deal corresponding to the goals of America First policy.
The agenda of the talks could include a non-aggression pact between Washington and Pyongyang with Moscow and Beijing as guarantors. This is important. The North Korean government feels threatened by the United States and believes that the only way to protect itself is developing nuclear tipped ballistic missiles. With the two great regional powers – Russia and China – playing the roles of mediators and guarantors of achieved accords, Pyongyang would have no further reason to continue with its nuclear program.
The positions of Russia and China on North Korea by and large coincide. Both countries have called for resuming the Six Party talks. They support the UN Security Council’s resolutions imposing sanctions on Pyongyang and oppose North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs as they pose a direct threat to security and also provoke the US to increase military capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region. Moscow and Beijing believe that if increased economic aid is rendered as a result of the agreements reached, Pyongyang would refocus energies towards developing its economy.
North Korea lists Russia as number one friendly state. It has a good reason to believe it is. By the early 1990s, the facilities built in the country with Soviet help produced up to 70% of electricity, 50% of chemical fertilizers, and about 40% of ferrous metals. The aluminium industry was created entirely by Soviet specialists. Approximately, 70 large industrial enterprises in North Korea were built with the assistance of the USSR. The beginning of the 21st century brought an improvement to Russian–North Korean relations. A new intergovernmental Treaty on Friendship, Good Neighborly Relations and Cooperation was signed in 2000.
Today, 10 thousand North Koreans are working in Russia. This year, a Russian Railways delegation visited North Korea to discuss the prospects for joint projects. It was agreed to provide training opportunities for Korean engineers in Russian universities. The parties are working on the Rajin-Hasan railway project – the largest single foreign investment project in North Korea (about $340 million). Russia exports oil to its neighbor. In 2011, it wrote off 90% of the North Korean debt. In return, Russia was allowed to invest in North Korean projects in the energy, health and education sectors.
Russia’s Foreign Policy Strategy adopted in 2016 foresees development of economic relations with both Koreas. If international sanctions are lifted, Russia can make a significant contribution to the country’s economic progress.
It all makes Moscow a trusted partner for Pyongyang and puts it into a unique position as a mediator and guarantor of any potential accords that could be reached. Pyongyang knows it is in Russia's national interest to maintain stability on the Korean peninsula, and prevent possible military escalation in the region. Moscow is opposed to a military action and the strategy of ‘regime change’ in North Korea. It played a very significant positive role in achieving the Iran deal, now it can play it again while finding a solution to the problem of North Korea.
If negotiations make progress, economic benefits could be exchanged for an agreement, which would enable International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections of the nuclear facilities. Pyongyang could be formally recognized as a legitimate state. With tensions reduced, Seoul and Pyongyang could launch talks on the terms of gradual unification of the country.
The US president has also invited Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte and the leaders of Thailand and Singapore to visit Washington. North Korea would top the agenda. This is a positive turn of events. Cooperating with the states of the region is better than undertaking a unilateral military action.
All told, there is a reason to believe that the Trump administration is backing away from an intensifying standoff with North Korea to avoid risking a nuclear conflict. The president sticks to Realpolitik and it's much better than being inflexible. The Iran nuclear deal is an example to prove that that diplomacy works against all the odds. Even if dialogue doesn’t lead to a breakthrough as it did with Iran, engagement could provide opportunities to avoid the worst from happening. Peace should be given a chance. If this policy toward North Korea is continued, it may bring the US and Russia together in a joint effort to solve the burning problem constituting a major threat to world security.