Six weeks after the summit between President Trump and President Kim, several recent events are worth noting. To sum up, here are the primary results of the summit:
The US gave North Korea:
— A meeting with the US President, a diplomatic triumph long sought by North Korea.
— The cancellation of military exercises between US and South Korea, long sought by North Korea as well as its neighbors China and Russia.
North Korea has so far:
— Released three US citizens being held in North Korean prisons just prior to the summit.
— Demolished a nuclear testing site just prior to the summit.
— Delivered 55 cases of remains believed to be those of US servicemen killed during the Korean War.
— Kept its promise not to carry out additional nuclear and ballistic missile tests.
— Sent a personal note from President Kim to President Trump.
On the negative side, a planned post-summit meeting between Secretary of State Pompeo and President Kim ended with Kim failing to appear, and one source saying it went “as badly as it could have gone.” An official North Korean statement after the meeting saying Pompeo had made a “unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization” appeared to confirm that the US and North Korean positions on ending the threat of nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula are still far apart.
Even some of the positive results are open to question. Some reports suggest the nuclear test site demolished at Punggye-ri was too dangerous to use anyway, after some of its tunnels collapsed in October 2017. North Korea may have completed its nuclear and ballistic missile tests for now.
On the negative side, improvements have been made since the summit at the Yongbyon nuclear plant, particularly its cooling systems. Since Yongbyon is believed to be the source of the plutonium North Korea has used to build its nuclear weapons, it is hard to see this as anything but confirmation that they plan to continue building more weapons.
Even more ominous is new work detected at the facility North Korea uses to build ICBMs.
Tough UN-backed sanctions against North Korea remain in place. However, numerous reports suggest China and Russia have eased enforcement post-summit, and it appears unlikely a return to “maximum pressure” will be possible.
So, the summit was successful in reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, three US citizens have been released from North Korean prisons, and some remains of US servicemen have been returned to the US. Those are significant accomplishments. On the other hand, the indefinite cancellation of military exercises will reduce US and South Korean readiness if North Korea attacks, and it appears that North Korea is still determined to keep and perhaps expand its nuclear arsenal. The relaxation of sanctions enforcement will encourage North Korea to stay on its present belligerent course.
Reasonable people could either consider the summit worthwhile, or not. I think it is still too early to tell. At least, the latest note from North Korea’s leader to President Trump suggests that for now they are still interested in talking, rather than testing nuclear weapons and ICBMs.