Why U.S. Negotiators Face a Tough Task After the Trump-Kim DMZ Meeting


(The National Interest)

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the demilitarized zone on the border of North and South Korea, June 30, 2019, photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the demilitarized zone on the border of North and South Korea, June 30, 2019

Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

by Naoko Aoki

July 15, 2019

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed in their impromptu meeting at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas on June 30 to revive working-level talks over North Korea's denuclearization. If the bilateral negotiations resume as scheduled later this month, then U.S. negotiators could face potential time constraints tied to the political calendar and a complex task.

The meeting between Trump and Kim at the DMZ appears to have injected much-needed political momentum into diplomacy between the United States and North Korea, which has been stalled since the failed Hanoi summit in February. The two leaders emphasized their good personal relations in the DMZ meeting, which was high in symbolism even if limited in substance.

But the reliance on personal chemistry between Trump and Kim has its downside. It means that the process is highly dependent on the personalities of the two leaders, and that the U.S. presidential election in 2020 could have an especially important role to play for the diplomatic process. In fact, North Korean concern about this key event may have been behind Kim Jong Un's decision in April to set an end-of-year deadline for diplomacy with the United States.

This could mean that U.S. negotiators will face time constraints. North Korea may only be willing to seriously negotiate a deal over the short term while it can be implemented by the Trump administration.

That does not bode well for denuclearization talks, which are better measured in weeks and months rather than in days. History supports this point. In the case of the 1994 Agreed Framework, which was the first denuclearization agreement the United States had with North Korea, it took negotiators eighteen weeks to sign a document after a breakthrough was achieved at a higher level. In the case of the Six Party Talks in the 2000s, it took the parties almost seventeen months to reach an agreement on initial steps after adopting a joint statement on the goals of denuclearization....

The remainder of this commentary is available on nationalinterest.org.

Naoko Aoki is a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

This commentary originally appeared on The National Interest on July 14, 2019. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.