Singapore: A historic agreement? What we know now

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At the time of writing these lines, less than 24 hours since U.S. President Donald Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong Un, the communist leader of North Korea, we are yet to know details on the way the summit unfolded and the results registered. But new information continues to appear, offering ever-clearer outlines of the perimeter of the talks between the leaders of the two states, which have been, legally speaking, at war since 1950, a war interrupted by an armistice concluded in 1953.

Of course, it was not a “high-level” summit that would include – as a badly needed ingredient – maximum transparency, but what is circulating is pretty much unclear. Trump himself, known for his tweets, not seldom bizarre, noted during the debates of the two sides’ delegations, with caution less characteristic for him, that: “Meetings between staffs and representatives are going well and quickly…. but in the end, that doesn’t matter. We will all know soon whether or not a real deal, unlike those of the past, can happen!

So, what can we expect? Carl Bildt, the known Swedish politician, known as a staunch opponent of the hard-to-decipher policy of the American President and of his tweets on events, had a sceptical reaction, reflecting his already formed opinion about Trump, an opinion he does not hide at all: “As feared, Trump evidently agreed to limited US defence efforts in South Korea in return for so far nothing more than words we have seen before. Terrific, as he would say.” ( 2:04 AM – 12 June 2018). Let us also quote Financial Times’s Gideon Rachman, another expert who is not hiding his unforgiving opinion about President Trump, who prefers to quote a colleague – Robert E. Kelly – who, in his own turn, quotes Andrei Lankov: “What do I think about today’s joint agreement? It has zero practical value. The U.S. could have extracted serious concessions, but it was not done. N.Korea will be emboldened and the U.S. got nothing.”

The diagnosis given to the Trump-Kim summit of June 12 in Singapore is hence identifiable, among experts, on a wide scale, from “zero practical value” to “limited US defence efforts in South Korea in return for so far nothing more than words we have seen before.” The joint communique made public at the end of the meeting of the two delegations notes that “President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” No details on what those security guarantees are (the maintaining/consolidation of the communist regime?; ensuring Kim’s leadership role?), guarantees in exchange for which the North Korean leader accepted – as he had previously committed himself doing – to agree with the denuclearisation of his own state. Regarding the previous mention, it is necessary to evoke what the communique notes, namely that the two parties “join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.” So, the denuclearisation is extended to the whole Korean Peninsula, Kim and Trump maybe having Seoul’s mandate in this regard.

Nevertheless, we know something for certain, something that could give us the possibility to speculate on the future of this “high-level” summit, namely that Mike Pompeo and “the relevant high-level DPRK official” will meet at “the earliest possible date” to establish the way of materialising the results of the meeting of the two leaders. To attempt the mentioned speculation, we leave aside the fact that we only know the key-words of the communique – “security guarantees” and “the denuclearisation of the peninsula” which precede an agreement between the two leaders. Namely that the meeting of the empowered delegates, under the leadership of high-level persons from the two sides, is meant to establish the details of this unprecedented agreement, namely what the “security guarantees” and the “denuclearisation of the peninsula” mean. Without certain references to this agreement being indicated, we take the liberty to continue the speculation, even though it is not ruled out that the leaders have defined in general lines the meanings they had in mind in the commitments they took. But could that be so? President Trump’s mentioned tweet, posted precisely during the two delegations’ debates in Singapore, shows not so much the American side’s caution as its uncertainty regarding an accord. Hence, Washington will soon know whether the breakthrough achieved through the meeting in Singapore will be identical to the previous agreements between the two sides, which did not manage to prevent North Korea from becoming a nuclear state (and the historic agreement reached two days ago only serves to credit this illegitimate/illegal status of the communist state). It is true that, only an hour later, another tweet sought to sweeten the caution of the previous one, the President being confident in the future: “The fact that I am having a meeting is a major loss for the U.S., say the haters & losers. We have our hostages, testing, research and all missile launches have stopped, and these pundits, who have called me wrong from the beginning, have nothing else they can say! We will be fine!

Nevertheless, we know something else in what regards the historical agreement in Singapore. And what was noticed in the unfolding of events in the hours immediately following the meeting of the two leaders is actually very important. The careful observers of the international scene have carefully followed and are following everything that appears in relation to the historic meeting. Because it is truly historic, since the leaders of two states, which were at war in 1950-1953, a war concluded with an armistice, have met now, almost seven decades later, to settle bilateral relations. BBC’s U.S. correspondent Paul Danahar observed something very interesting in the hours that followed and immediately posted it on his Twitter account. Hence, he writes: “Chinese Foreign Ministry announced that Trump would suspend US war games with South Korea before Trump announced it himself at the press briefing. That suggests Kim’s people were on the phone to Beijing straight after the meeting cos they recognized how big a concession it was./12 Jun 2018.” The comments posted on Danahar’s observation went through a very interesting scale. Ranging from some pointing out that we are witnessing “a deal” in Singapore already reached by the presidents of the U.S. and China, some adding Russia to that too, to the fact that maybe Beijing had its own “ears” in the hall of the American – North Korean summit.

Could it be that the script of the meeting in Singapore was already written, beforehand, by the great systemic powers, most likely by the U.S. and China? It is an interesting hypothesis worth exploring. Especially since there are such historical precedents for U.S.-China agreements in what concerns pressing regional issues, the opening made after the “Shanghai communique” following the Nixon – Mao Zedong meeting of February 1972 being an example in that sense.

BBC’s correspondent in Beijing noted on Twitter: “I wonder which side gave #China advance notice that the regular joint #USA #SouthKorea military exercises were going to be cancelled? Kim Jong-un camp or DonaldTrump camp? Would love to know what the Pentagon & the generals in Seoul think of this. Big concession to #NorthKorea.”

Will new details manage to clarify the veritable history page written by the recent “high-level” summit between the U.S. and North Korea?

 

Photo: EPA