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The North Koreans claim that during the talks in Vietnam, Donald Trump was 'clearly not the person in command' on the US side.

 

North Korea’s leader, Supreme Commander Kim Jong Un, may order fresh nuclear tests and missile launches as a consequence of his interaction with US President Donald J. Trump in Hanoi. The manner in which Trump conducted the meeting was, in the view of the other side, wholly different from the businesslike and confident manner the New York billionaire had shown in his earlier Singapore summit with Kim. This time around, the US President was clearly a “prisoner of the gangster group led by (NSA) Bolton and (Secretary of State) Pompeo”, according to the DPRK side. Discussions at a location in Northeast Asia with those familiar with the thinking of the leadership core of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) have made it clear that trust within North Korea’s key policymakers is diminishing in the ability—if not as yet the willingness—of President Donald J. Trump of the United States to “sincerely negotiate an agreement with Pyongyang that meets the DPRK’s conditions” of (1) assured regime survival over the long term, and (2) a green light to all countries to initiate unrestricted inbound and outbound trade, investment and commercial flows with Pyongyang.

 

According to these individuals, the Donald Trump who met with DPRK Supreme Commander Kim Jong Un in Hanoi was visibly different from the “much more confident and assured man” who met with Kim in Singapore. This time around, the US President was “clearly not the person in command” on the US side, and during the course of the talks, was “completely reliant” on cues made over to him by his “Cold War associates”, in contrast to Trump at the Singapore summit, “who took his own decisions”. It needs to be mentioned that in the view of the North Korean leadership core, almost all the official associates of Trump adhere to Cold War views and seek to “tempt and mislead” the Supreme Commander of North Korea into taking what the US side has demanded “for the past 40 years”, which is to make concessions that would permanently incapacitate the ability of the DPRK to have any nuclear-related program, including that relating to non-military uses. They said that such a de-nuclearization could “only evolve on a regional basis and over a period of time sufficient to build complete trust between the US and North Korean sides”. It is not possible “in the arrogant hurry (that US officials demanded in Hanoi of the DPRK) through the mouth of President Trump”.

 

According to the interlocutors spoken to at the Northeast Asian location, the US position at the Hanoi talks (as articulated by the 45th President of the world’s most powerful country) was that Supreme Commander Kim should “blindly follow the wishes of Washington” and that only after he obeyed could any discussion on matching US steps take place. They added that “the US side was evasive and unclear about the road map, if any, for corresponding concessions on their side”, which gave rise to the suspicion that “all that they wanted was to trick North Korea into (unilaterally) abandoning its most effective deterrent against aggression and getting only honeyed words from President Trump and vague promises from his official associates in return”.

 

‘TRUMP NOT WILLING TO LISTEN’

 

While the abrupt “walking away” of President Trump from the negotiating and even the mealtime table at Hanoi surprised the globe, key elements close to the leadership core of the DPRK see the manoeuvre as “pre-planned” and designed as an attempt to “humiliate the leadership (of North Korea) before the international community”. The Presidential snub came at a time when, in the North Korean view, Supreme Commander Kim was “attracting tens of millions of admirers all over the world every month for his steadfast commitment to a permanent peace on the Korean peninsula in line with the wishes of the noble Korean nation”. Unlike at the Singapore meeting, “when President Trump paid great attention to the ideas expressed by Supreme Commander Kim”, President Trump in Hanoi seemed “not even to want to listen to the DPRK leadership, but simply repeated over and over that he (Trump) should be trusted and his wishes obeyed immediately, because (in his view) he was a man who all his life had kept his word”. Trump “over and over” said that the North Korean side should obey the wishes of the US delegation by repeating, in effect, what Saddam Hussein and later Muammar Gaddafi had agreed to in Iraq and Libya earlier. President Trump wanted the US view to prevail “in order to dazzle his people with the sacrifice of the safety of the Korean people, while not caring about the harsh impact on the noble people should the nuclear defensive systems so painfully created by them over several decades be surrendered”, and that too “without any clear and enforceable plan” from the US side about how and when they would ensure that the “irreplaceable conditions” (of regime survival and freedom of operation within the international trading system) be made operational. On the contrary, the US side was “vague and evasive” about the steps they would take in response to acceptance of their demands, talking only in “generalities and in sugary formulae without specific action plans and time frames”. In contrast, the US side had “well-thought out timeframes and action plans that they wanted the DPRK to accept and to immediately begin implementing”.

 

During the nearly two dozen discussions that have taken place with different elements of the US and the North Korean side over the past eleven months, it was obvious that “none of the associates of President Trump have given up their repeatedly stated desire to force the end of the DPRK popular regime led by the wise hand of the Supreme Commander” and get it replaced with a “puppet government led by traitors to the noble Korean people” that Washington would fully control. To the shock of the delegation from Pyongyang, the US side acted as though South Korea “had zero power to take independent decisions”, and that Washington would decide “all such matters on behalf of Seoul”. In fact, the US side claimed in conversation that “no country, including China and Russia, would dare to disregard the sanctions imposed on the DPRK through the United Nations Security Council”, and that the noble Korean people would “starve to death unless the leadership core surrendered to US demands”. Such “inhuman thought” created “grave doubts” in the North Korean side about the “sincerity of the US side to negotiate an agreement that met the minimum conditions” set by the DPRK leadership for any agreement on regional de-nuclearization.

 

‘ASKED ONLY FOR TRADE’

 

According to the individuals spoken to from a Northeast Asian location, all that the North Korean side asked in Hanoi was to “permit their compatriots in the South as well as fraternal countries such as the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, to have trade and commercial links with the DPRK without fear of US retaliation”. They added that this was all that was requested in exchange for “verifiable and substantial measures that would be concurrently get taken by the DPRK towards de-nuclearization” of the Korean peninsula. However, the US position, as articulated by President Trump, was that “the DPRK should first surrender and then the US side would decide what rewards should be given for such life-changing and permanent concessions”. Also, the US side was firm that it was expected that China, Russia and South Korea must obey Washington and impose “gangster sanctions on the Korean people”. Unlike during the Singapore meeting, when President Trump was more attentive to the other point of view and seemed less guided by his associates, in Hanoi he kept “repeating the same formulas that had been talked about by his associates earlier in their discussions (with the North Korean side) and which had already been rejected as inadequate”. Trump in Hanoi seemed much less interested in a genuine negotiation and remained focused on “insisting on his point of view and on his conditions being unconditionally and immediately accepted”. Only the “polite nature of Supreme Commander Kim Jong Un and the innate culture of the noble Korean people ensured that at no stage was the Supreme Commander unfriendly or disrespectful to the much older US President”, who was clearly in the “mental grip of Cold War associates and was no longer free to express or to implement his own ideas” the way he did during the Singapore meeting between the two leaders.

 

While there was a casual mention of an offer of a meeting in Washington later in the year, it was made clear both by Trump as well as separately by his associates that “this would be a surrender ceremony, and that before the visit, the process of eliminating DPRK’s main defensive systems should begin”. When the Supreme Commander made it clear that “national honour would not permit such a one-sided deal”, President Trump declared “in a tutored manner” that the conference was over and that “he was returning to Washington immediately”. It was clear that the US President was “only following the script written out for him by the Cold Warriors that filled his team”, and that he “no longer had either the will or the ability to come to a decision on his own that was fair to both sides and not a surrender”. The North Korean side became aware of the change in President Trump since the previous meeting. The earlier “decisiveness and autonomy of thought and suggestions for action” that the President of the US had in past meetings and communications was “totally absent” in Hanoi from the start.

 

FADING HOPES OF COMPROMISE

 

“Honour intact and preserving his steel will”, Supreme Commander Kim Jong Un returned to headquarters after the Hanoi summit and immediately afterwards convened successive meetings of the core leadership of North Korea. What the decisions were at such meetings was not indicated, but there seems a possibility that the North Korean side has given up hopes of a mutually agreed compromise, at least during the period when a weakened President Trump is in office. If this be so, they are likely to resume the development of “nuclear defensive systems”, including a hydrogen device, that the leadership core believes would insulate them from the possibility of attack by the US and the country they loathe even more than they do the US, which is Japan. In contrast, there is substantial goodwill within Pyongyang for South Korea and its people. According to the interlocutors spoken to, the manner in which the US side talked of South Korea, as though it were a “slave state that had no right to take its own decisions”, shocked the DPRK delegation. The expectation in Pyongyang is that “the noble spirit of the Korean people will rise within the (South Korean) leadership and ensure that the two sides cooperate with each other and build stronger and stronger bonds so that the entire peninsula benefits”.

 

However, the question in Pyongyang is the extent to which the Moon Jae-In government can withstand pressure from the Trump administration to retain the harsh sanctions regime that is in place on the DPRK. The attitude of China and Russia will be crucial. If Moscow and Beijing refuse to participate in what is described by the sources spoken to as “collective punishment by the US government of the Korean people for their refusal to surrender when they did not even after the 1950s’ war with the US”, a South Korea under the current leadership may follow the example of Beijing and Moscow, and should Washington object, may begin to adopt a “non-aligned” posture in the emerging Cold War 2.0 between the Russia-China axis and the US-led alliance, the key component of which in East Asia is Japan, the target of much of North Korea’s nuclear offensive systems.

 

‘WEAK TRUMP CANNOT DELIVER’

 

The perception of a US President so weakened by the viciously personal attacks on him and his family members that he has lost all freedom of manoeuvre does not entirely fit such moves by Trump as his repeated efforts at getting funding for a border wall that has the ability to prevent illegal crossings only in a Hollywood movie. What seems clear is that the leadership in Pyongyang, in its decision to enter into substantive talks with the US side, relied on the “businessman realism” of Donald Trump and his power as the Chief Executive of the US “leading the majority party” to ensure a “fair” agreement that would have a “mutually acceptable timetable involving corresponding and simultaneous measures by both sides, rather than any unilateral concession” by the DPRK. The loss of a Republican majority in the US House of Representatives and the toll that the Mueller-Cohen circus is having on the Trump Presidency seem to have diluted the earlier confidence in Pyongyang that President Trump had not just the intention, but the power to agree to and to implement on the US side what the leadership core in North Korea considers a fair deal. They attribute his insistence on “unconditional surrender” at Hanoi as being caused by his growing political weakness, leading to the US Head of State coming completely under the influence of individuals such as National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who in his earlier avatar as Director CIA is known by the DPRK leadership core to have worked on “plots for regime beheading” and encouraging a meltdown in North Korea. It has been noted by the “shrewd and far-seeing mind of the Supreme Commander” that neither Bolton nor Pompeo has expressed “any regret” for their longstanding position that the leadership core in Pyongyang needed to be eliminated through all or any available means. In the view of the DPRK leadership core, such a “lack of remorse” indicates that their “secret intention is to work towards a removal of the leadership while professing good intentions in the talks”.

 

Overall, it would seem a difficult task to once again persuade the North Korean side to believe in the possibility of what they consider a “fair” agreement meeting the two pre-conditions (regime survival and freedom to trade) that are “not negotiable”. After the Hanoi meeting that was cut short by the US side, the probability is for the DPRK to develop and to exhibit more lethal nuclear and missile “defence” capabilities, so as to make the US acknowledge the reality of a nuclear North Korea and stand aside while those countries that seek good relations with Pyongyang (principally South Korea) develop mutually beneficial linkages in, what this writer had, in a talk in the National Assembly at Seoul, termed a “Bright Sunshine Policy” towards North Korea.

 

[This opinion piece forms a part of the themed article series “North Korea as a Global Existential Threat” of the Science, Technology & Security forum.

The article was originally published in the Sunday Guardian and is reproduced with permission.]

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.