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Wednesday, July 17, 2019, 12:02
Hopes raised for third Trump-Kim summit
By Liu Yueqiao
Wednesday, July 17, 2019, 12:02 By Liu Yueqiao

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday he hoped both the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the United States could "be a little more creative" when the two sides resume talks aimed at resolving the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue. Speaking in a radio interview on The Sean Hannity Show, however, Pompeo did not say when the talks would resume.

US President Donald Trump and top DPRK leader Kim Jong-un met briefly and shook hands at Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone between the DPRK and the Republic of Korea on June 30. The meeting drew worldwide attention, especially because Trump became the first incumbent US president to set foot in the DPRK.

The dramatic meeting between the two leaders eased US-DPRK tensions after the second Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February, collapsed without an agreement, because the US insisted the DPRK completely denuclearize and Pyongyang pushed for relief from sanctions.

And despite Trump stressing that the US is in no rush to ink a deal, and Kim being aware that it is impossible for the US to lift all the sanctions at one go, the two sides seem prepared to lower their expectations of each other

On Monday, Pompeo said: "I hope the North Koreans will come to the table with ideas that they didn't have the first time…We hope we can be a little more creative too."

But he added: "The president's mission hasn't changed: to fully and finally denuclearize North Korea in a way that we can verify. That's the mission set for these negotiations."

While Trump's meeting with Kim on June 30 reflected a rapport between the two leaders, the two sides don't appear any closer to narrowing their differences. Yet the 40-minute meeting between Trump and Kim at the Freedom House in the demilitarized zone resulted in the two sides agreeing to restart negotiations following the stalemate in Hanoi. And despite Trump stressing that the US is in no rush to ink a deal, and Kim being aware that it is impossible for the US to lift all the sanctions at one go, the two sides seem prepared to lower their expectations of each other.

Notwithstanding the decades of hostility, Washington and Pyongyang have some common interests which have prompted them to resume dialogue.

Although the DPRK has made economic development its strategic priority, its economic growth is still low due to the harsh sanctions. A report issued recently by the World Food Programme and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said that the DPRK's total grain output in 2018 was the lowest in the past 10 years, and that it needed at least 1.36 million tons of grain as aid.

As for the US, the DPRK's nuclear program has always been a sticking point. Washington sees it as a threat to its allies and overseas bases, even the US mainland. In fact, the DPRK's nuclear program has also seriously influenced the US' strategic layout in Northeast Asia. As such, the US wants to resolve the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue in order to safeguard its security and strategic interests in Northeast Asia as well as implement its "America first" strategy.

Besides, the progress Trump makes in dealing with the peninsula nuclear issue will increase his political capital-it could even become his legacy-and boost his presidential campaign in 2020.

But Trump is not in a rush to strike a deal by making any significant compromises due to the constraints of domestic politics. Also, now that Democrats are in the majority in the House of Representatives, the risk that the Congress could reject Trump's deal is higher. And given the demands of the presidential campaign, Trump is unlikely to soften his stance against the DPRK, and hopes the DPRK does not test any nuclear weapons or long-range ballistic missiles.

However, in spite of both sides wanting to resolve the peninsula nuclear issue, the process is not easy, as it involves various parties' interests. A few summits between two heads of state are not enough to restore permanent peace on the peninsula even though they have eased tensions in the region and put the peninsula peace process back on track.

Many people were disappointed by the outcome of the Hanoi summit because they had high hopes that it would yield immediate results, especially because the first summit was so successful. But we should neither glorify the significance of the first summit nor underestimate the role of the second, as they increased the understanding between the US and the DPRK and made clear both parties' bottom lines. The need therefore is to be cautiously optimistic that a possible third Trump-Kim summit will take the peace process forward.

The author is a research fellow at the Center for Northeast Asian Studies, Jilin Academy of Social Sciences.

The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.

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