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Off the table

The failure of the Trump-Kim summit represents a missed opportunity for the world, writes Fabian Hamilton MP.



President Trump’s summit with Kim Jong Un at the end of February was an abject failure.

Throughout his presidency, Trump’s lack of diplomatic skill has consistently shone through – whether it be in his dealings with North Korea, Iran, or China.

The fact is that the nature of Trump’s erratic presidency and Kim Jong Un’s authoritarianism – and the bravado and playing to the gallery that lie at the heart of both – have made any substantial agreement unlikely, with little authority delegated to officials. So, although Donald Trump proclaimed a breakthrough after the first US-North Korea summit last summer, there is still absolutely no evidence that any meaningful and much needed progress on denuclearisation has been made.

The recent talks in Vietnam broke down due to President Trump entering into them without any concrete plan for peace. His dialogue with Kim Jong Un was only that – a series of conversations lacking the political will to ensure success.

The president believes that he is one of the world’s top negotiators, but meeting the North Koreans without any meaningful offer resulted in the ending we could all have predicted. As much as he would like it to be, this isn’t The Apprentice and President Trump’s ‘my way or the highway’ approach won’t work to resolve the world’s most testing diplomatic issues.

In fact, since the summit in Hanoi, there have been reports that North Korea has restarted developing its rocket launch facility – which had initially been partially dismantled following the first summit.

These worrying signals of rearmament from Pyongyang mean it is becoming clear that President Trump’s approach to North Korea has achieved very little. The hostile rhetoric has been dialled down since the President pledged to annihilate North Korea, childishly and undiplomatically referring to Kim Jong Un as ‘little rocket man’.

But the name-calling has been replaced by a disturbing positivity toward the North Korean leader. The president has since referred to Kim Jong Un as his ‘friend’ and has praised him as ‘intelligent’ on several occasions. Acting with such blatant warmth towards a dictator who has no respect for human rights might suggest that Donald Trump has no respect for human rights himself.

North Korea’s human rights record should also be particularly worrying for President Trump given the death of American citizen Otto Warmbier, who died in 2017 after his detention in North Korea for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster. It is sickening that this appalling breach of human rights seems to have been swept under the carpet in order to progress the president’s unilateral dialogue with North Korea.

President Trump must not sell out on the United States’ longstanding commitments to human rights and international law in exchange for the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. Rather, these should be tied together into negotiations as a price North Korea must pay for the lifting of sanctions.

Sadly, the prospect of full denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula now looks increasingly distant. And with both sides blaming one another for the breakdown of the talks, it is difficult to see how either Trump or Kim could turn this around to achieve the permanent dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear programme.

In abandoning talks, Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have missed an unprecedented opportunity for disarmament as well as taking steps towards establishing a new nuclear weapons-free zone.

Under the auspices of the UN, a successful denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula could result in a normalisation of relations between North and South, and also in the expansion of the UN treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone.

Binding treaties like this incorporate states into an anti-nuclear weapons umbrella, stabilising their region and encouraging movement away from a  potentially catastrophic conflict. Multilateral agreements to disarm and move away from nuclear weapons really can be the difference between peace and nuclear wars.

Donald Trump’s presidency has been defined by foreign policy decisions that have created greater global instability.

For example, the decision to withdraw from the joint comprehensive plan of action with Iran has only made it more likely that Tehran will one day resume its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. All this was done so that Trump could fulfil an Obama-bashing campaign pledge. Playing politics in this way is wholly unacceptable when peace is on the line and millions of lives are at risk. The Kim-Trump summit was abandoned as the table was being set for the pair’s working lunch in Hanoi. And it’s since become clear that Donald Trump’s mistake is that while he managed to get Kim Jong Un to the table he hasn’t managed to get him to eat.

Photo credit: DonkeyHotey

Fabian Hamilton

Fabian Hamilton is the Labour MP for Leeds North East and the shadow minister for peace and disarmament.


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