US President Donald Trump bilaterally embraced the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or North Korea, as the DPRK is simply and informally called, through a joint statement of principles signed by Trump and his counterpart from the DPRK, Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un, on June 12, 2018. The two government leaders did this in the Southeast Asian island city-state of Singapore. The DPRK-US statement of principles was signed by Kim Jong-Un, as the chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK, and Donald Trump, as the head of state and federal government of the United States of America, in the Capella Hotel on the Singaporean southern resort area of Sentosa Island, where Universal Studios Singapore is located. It was widely anticipated for months by the whole world.
Speaking very highly about his North Korean opposite, during the DPRK-US summit President Trump even told the press that he has cultivated a “special relationship” with Chairman Kim and that they had established trust in one another. Both leaders signed a final statement saying:
1. The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
2. The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
3. Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
4. The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
As a result of the DPRK-US meeting, Trump said joint US-South Korean military exercises would be cancelled and even admitted frankly to ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos that past negotiations failed because of Washington letting Kim Jong-Il down. Indirectly conceding that the North Koreans were right, Trump called US-South Korean military exercises “very provocative” and “tremendously expensive.” On the other hand, the North Koreans declared that they would get rid of their nuclear weapons and that the US would remove its nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula.
From the Stratosphere and Twittersphere to the Winter Olympics
Prior to the DPRK-US summit in Singapore, there were direct and indirect exchanges and informal meetings between DPRK representatives and US representatives. An important period for DPRK-US backchannel exchanges began when North Korea successfully demonstrated that it could militarily retaliate against the US with its missiles. This started with the testing of the Hwasong-14, North Korea’s first intercontinental ballistic missile, on July 4 and July 28, 2017.
The DPRK demonstrated that it could hit the US with its missiles through the Hwasong-14 test, which raised alarm bells in the Pentagon and the Washington Beltway about the DPRK’s capabilities to retaliate against the US should a conflict take place between the two adversaries. Trump reacted by giving a press conference from the Trump National Gulf Club, his personal golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen,” he told reporters from his New Jersey golf club on August 8, 2017. The Trump Administration also touted a policy of “maximum pressure” against the DPRK, but the North Korean government dismissed President Trump’s threats as “nonsense.”
The DPRK responded to US threats with the announcement that plans were being drawn by its military commanders to launch missiles towards the US territory of Guam, which Washington annexed from the Japanese after the Second World War as a Pentagon forward base and means of launching US attacks on targets in Asia. North Korea challenged the Trump Administration further by testing three short-range ballistic missiles on August 26, 2017. This was followed by another test launch on August 29, 2017. Next, the DPRK announced it had successfully tested a thermonuclear or hydrogen bomb on September 3, 2017.
Trump reacted by condemning North Korea and writing on Twitter, his favourite medium of communication, that “North Korea is a rogue nation which has become a great threat and embarrassment to China, which is trying to help but with little success.” Less than two weeks later, the North Koreans did another ballistic missile test on September 15, 2017. On September 17, 2017, as a result Trump dubbed Chairman Kim “Rocket man” on Twitter, to which Kim responded by calling Trump a “dotard.” This was followed by a test of the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile on November 28, 2017. At this point it became abundantly clear the North Korean military could fire into anywhere inside the United States, from New York City and Dallas and Los Angeles and Seattle, if the US military were to launch an attack on the DPRK.
The South Korean government of President Moon Jae-In, who was elected on a peace and Korean reunification platform, offered to hold talks with North Korea on the Twenty-Third Winter Olympics and a series of other issues on January 9, 2018. This led to the two Koreas having their teams march together under the banner of the blue and white Korean Unification Flag during the opening ceremony and fielding a unified Korean female hockey team at the Winter Olympics in the South Korea city of Pyeongchang. President Kim Yong-Nam, the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK (and North Korea’s official head of state), and Kim Yo-Jong, the younger sister of Chairman Kim Jong-Un, would also lead a high-profile DPRK delegation to Pyeongchang. Behind the inter-Korean Olympic diplomacy steps were being made for future talks and signals being transmitted between the US and DPRK.
As a result of the inter-Korean Olympic diplomacy, a high-ranking ten-person South Korean delegation led by Director Chung Eui-Yong, the head of the South Korean National Security Office, arrived in North Korea for talks with DPRK officials on March 5, 2018. Aside from a planned meeting between President Moon Jae-In and Chairman Kim Jong-Un in Panmunjom (Truce Village) or the Joint Security Area of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), this led to the DPRK openly calling for a direct meeting between President Trump and Chairman Kim on March 8, 2018. The DPRK also offer to suspend all nuclear and missile testing as a good will gesture to hold the bilateral meetings with Moon and Trump.
The announcement about a Kim-Trump meeting was publicly made by Director Chung Eui-Yong in Washington. This was done after Director Chung and a South Korean delegation consisting of Director Suh Hoon, the head of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (formerly known as the Agency for National Security Planning and founded as the Korean Central Intelligence Agency), and Ambassador Cho Yoon-Je, the South Korean ambassador to the US, held a meeting with President Trump in the White House where the invitation of Kim Jong-Un was verbally delivered by the South Korean officials after they briefed Trump about the inter-Korean talks in North Korea that were held on March 5, 2018.
After speaking to Donald Trump in the White House, Chung Eui-Yong announced that Trump said that he would meet Chairman Kim sometime in the month of May. Subsequently, US Press Secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed that Trump had accepted Kim Jong-Un’s invitation for a direct meeting “at a place and time to be determined.” Trump then confirmed this himself by writing the following on Twitter for the public: “Kim Jong Un [sic.] talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze. Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time. Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!”
From Beijing and Panmunjom to Scandinavia
Behind the scenes, North Korea’s strategic ally the People’s Republic of China played an important role in facilitating a DPRK-US summit in Singapore. Chairman Kim made a trip to China on March 25, 2018 using the railway network connecting North Korea to China by special train. The reason he had gone to Beijing was to hold important consultations with Chinese leaders about his planned meetings with the leaders of South Korea and the US.
Kim Jon-Un’s visit to China, which Beijing described as an unofficial visit, was his first known trip abroad since he became the leader of the DPRK in 2011. After two days of speculation based on reports of a heavily protected train from North Korea arriving in Beijing, the unofficial visit by Kim Jong-Un was announced by the Chinese government, which also briefed the Trump Administration and sent a personal message from Chinese Paramount Leader Xi Jinping to Trump, on March 27, 2018. Chairman Kim stayed in China until March 28, 2018.
North Korea affirmed that denuclearization was its consistent and longstanding objective, but that the North Koreans needed security guarantees from the US government that the DPRK would never be threatened or attacked again by the US military. After the high-level consultations between China and the DPRK, Xi Jinping would publicly announce that the North Koreans were ready to resume talks about disarming on April 5, 2018. The visit by Chairman Kim to President Xi paralleled Kim Jong-Il’s visit to Chinese Paramount Leader Jiang Zemin in May 2000 before an inter-Korean summit between Kim Jong-Il and South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung in June 2000 and a later meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 19, 2000.
In line with the Chinese mediation between the US and North Korea, the head of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Michael Pompeo, visited the DPRK in early-April 2018. Only after Pompeo visited North Korea, did Donald Trump inform the world through Twitter on April 18, 2018. Trump wrote: “Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong Un [sic.] in North Korea last week. Meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed. Details of Summit are being worked out now. Denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!” Mike Pompeo’s trip to begin making arrangements for the DPRK-US summit in Singapore took place after Pompeo was nominated on March 13, 2018 by Trump to replace Secretary Rex Tillerson as the US secretary of state and the top diplomat of the Trump Administration. It is worth noting that Tillerson was removed from his position in the US Department of State due to key differences between himself and President Trump on the nuclear deal the US had signed with Iran, whereas Pompeo was chosen because of his obedience to Trump and shared opposition to fulfilling Washington’s obligations under the terms of the nuclear deal with Iran.
Before the inter-Korean summit, Pyongyang’s next step was to declare a moratorium suspending its nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile testing and to close the Punggye-Ri Nuclear Test Site. The Korean Central News Agency, the official news agency of the DPRK, announced that this would take place as of April 21, 2018. Albeit at this point the North Koreans had already established the capabilities they needed and no longer had to perform nuclear or missile tests, the move by Pyongyang was presented as a good will gesture and concession to both US and South Korean officials.
With a greenlight from both the US and China, the summit between President Moon Jae-In and Chairman Kim then took place in Panmunjom or the Joint Security Area on April 27, 2018. Kim Jong-Un would cross into the South Korean side of the DMZ, while briefly encouraging President Moon to step over into the North Korean side of the DMZ, before the two Korean leaders walked to hold their bilateral meeting in the Peace House on the South Korean side of Panmunjom. The inter-Korean talks also included military and security officials from both sides. Both the DPRK and South Korea agreed to sign a peace treaty to officially end the Korean war before the year 2018 finished and to take the necessary steps to make the Korean Peninsula a nuclear weapon free zone. The North-South talks also resulted in integrating past agreements for Korean reunification. Kim Jong-Un would then go back to China and meet Xi Jinping in Dalian, Liaoning to coordinate with the Chinese further on May 7, 2018.
After the inter-Korean talks and two days after the Trump Administration would violate the multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran and UN Security Council Resolution 2231 (on May 8, 2018) by unilaterally withdrawing the US, President Trump would use Twitter to announce the place and date of the DPRK-US summit on May 10, 2018. Trump wrote: “The highly anticipated meeting between Kim Jong Un [sic.] and myself will take place in Singapore on June 12th. We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!” This was followed by indirect and direct North Korean and US exchanges. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-Ho would travel to the Swedish capital of Stockholm for talks with Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström, whose country diplomatically represents the US as the protecting power in the DPRK, from March 15 to 17, 2018. Deputy Director-General Choe Kang Il, the deputy official responsible for North American affairs in the DPRK, would leave to Finland for informal talks with US and South Korean officials on May 18, 2018.
(To be continued in Part II)