Korean peninsula

Donald Trump says talks with Kim Jong-un may result in official end to Korean war

US president confirms summit will go ahead on June 12 but tries to manage expectations on denuclearisation, saying ‘it’s going to be a process’

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 June, 2018, 4:04pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 June, 2018, 11:30pm

With Donald Trump’s planned talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un back on track, the US president now says there is a chance they could reach a deal to officially end the Korean war after more than six decades – but analysts are less optimistic.

After a meeting with North Korean special envoy Kim Yong-chol at the White House on Friday lasting nearly 80 minutes, Trump said an agreement to formally end the war was “something that could come out of the meeting [with Kim Jong-un]”. He also confirmed that the historic summit, which the US president had called off last week, would go ahead as planned on June 12 in Singapore.

“We talked about ending the war, and you know, this war has been going on – it’s got to be the longest war – almost 70 years,” Trump said.

“Historically it’s very important, but we’ll see. We did discuss the ending of the Korean war,” he added.

But Trump also tried to manage expectations for the summit on the thorny issue of denuclearisation.

“I never said it goes in one meeting. I think it’s going to be a process, but the relationships are building and that’s very positive,” he said.

The 1953 armistice signed by the United States, China and North Korea ended hostilities on the Korean peninsula, but there has been no formal peace agreement since then.

Pyongyang has meanwhile demanded regime security as a condition for denuclearisation, and officially ending the Korean war could be one of the measures to provide that. Seoul is keen to declare a formal end to the war, and if it is on the table at the upcoming talks there is also the possibility South Korean President Moon Jae-in could attend.

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But analysts say officially ending the war will not be easy and denuclearisation will still be top of the agenda at the summit.

“It will be very difficult to reach a declaration [to end the war] at the upcoming summit. North Korea and the US will be focusing on the issues around how to denuclearise and the time frame,” said Jin Chang-soo, president of the Sejong Institute in Seongnam. “The two sides are likely to confirm the method and a timetable [for denuclearisation] and later they will work their way towards declaring an end to the war.”

But one signatory to the armistice – Beijing – could be left out of talks on ending the war. Moon last month said he wanted to hold a trilateral summit with Trump and Kim if their talks made progress on a declaration. On Saturday, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Beijing welcomed Trump’s announcement and supported both sides to continue making positive progress and preparing for the Singapore summit.

“A declaration to end the war is a political act that is not legally binding – and technically speaking, it can be made without China’s involvement,” said Lee Ki-beom, a research fellow in the International Law and Dispute Settlement Programme at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

“Even a peace agreement can be made without China as it would not be a transformation of the 1953 armistice,” Lee said, adding that it would be more effective to involve China in the deal but it would then make its own demands – likely aimed at weakening US influence in the region.

Countering that influence in Asia is a key strategic priority for Beijing and it opposes US troops in the South crossing the 38th parallel that divides the two Koreas, while North Korea has demanded American forces withdraw from the peninsula altogether.

But the presence of US troops in South Korea is not up for negotiation at the upcoming summit, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said on Saturday, saying the issue was “separate and distinct from negotiations”.

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“I would like to say to our Singapore hosts that we’re grateful,” Mattis said at the International Institute for Strategic Studies Shangri-La Dialogue, which is being held in the city state this weekend.

“Our objective remains the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula,” he told the annual regional security forum.

Mattis’ counterparts from South Korea, Japan and Canada all endorsed the US goal.

Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan expressed “cautious optimism” about the Trump-Kim summit given North Korea’s record of breaking previous denuclearisation agreements and secretly continuing its nuclear and missile programmes multiple times.

But South Korean Defence Minister Song Young-moo said it would be different this time. “Just because we have been tricked by North Korea before does not guarantee that we will be tricked in the future,” Song said. “If we start to think like this, then we can never negotiate with them and we can never look to achieve peace with them.”

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Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said international pressure would continue and the United Nations sanctions would not be lifted unless Pyongyang complied.

“In light of how North Korea has behaved in the past, I believe it is important not to reward North Korea solely for agreeing to have a dialogue,” Onodera said.