With the sudden developments occurring on the Korean peninsula occurring in such a short space of time; what is the logic behind the spontaneous meeting at Panmunjom. How does it benefit Seoul, Washington and Pyongyang.
Pyongyang’s entire foreign policy strategy, thus far, has been to demonstrate to the world that it is offering major concessions and fully engaging with the negotiation process, only to be rebuffed by a “gangster-like” United States administration. They have also touted a close relationship between Marshall Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump, driving a wedge between the President and his advisors. Kim Jong Un’s agreement to this brief summit is a great opportunity for the DPRK to tell the world that it is fully engaging with the US and is fully committed to denuclearisation.
The added benefit of the rushed nature of this meeting is that there are no expectations for this meeting. Kim Jong Un has no obligation to secure an agreement on sanctions relief and so there will be less pressure on his and his team, compared the Hanoi and Singapore. The meeting will likely be framed as a good will gesture and any casual agreement will be a bonus for the government.
The meeting may also be an opportunity for Kim Jong Un to continue his policy of ‘aggressive friendship’ towards Trump and, by playing to the President’s ego, helping butter up Donald Trump before any future summit.
The diplomats on the US side will likely try and use this meeting to jumpstart the US-DPRK nuclear negotiations which have been stalled since the summit in Hanoi collapsed in February this year. It will also be a good opportunity for Washington to reaffirm their commitment to denuclearisation in Korea and to get some much needed face-time with their North Korean counterparts who have proven elusive throughout the negotiation process.
I can imagine that the US team will be keen to use the meeting as a chance to restart inter-governmental talks, although this could be stonewalled by President Trump who seems more focused on the optics and in staging a successful meeting – negotiations are a potential flashpoint for disagreement and Trump doesn’t want anything to mar his ‘huge success’ in Korea.
Moon Jae-in has long been referred to as the ‘middle man’ between the two countries. His visit to Pyongyang in September likely played a part in rejuvenating relations which eventually led to the second summit between Kim and Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam. His presence at Panmunjom alongside the two leaders will be the first time that these most important figures in nuclear diplomacy have all been in the same place at the same time.
This meeting provides a chance for Moon Jae-in and his administration to take a more front-line position as a direct mediator between the two. The success of this multi-nation meeting may lend credibility to the restarting of 6-party talks, an idea which has been praised by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
The meeting between Kim Jong Un and Trump proves to be a continuation of Trump’s unusual diplomatic strategy, something which has yet to yield any tangible results.