March 07, 2019

Summit Datebook 2: After Hanoi, relieved but still curious

By Duyeon Kim

Kim Jong Un undisputedly won the first round of summitry in Singapore last June. He was masterful at playing US President Donald Trump by pocketing a key American bargaining chip—a halt to defensive US-South Korean military exercises—without having to deliver substantive denuclearization steps. He also succeeded because his negotiators essentially compelled Washington to accept Pyongyang’s preferred language and sequence in their joint Singapore statement.

The Hanoi round was a drastically different outcome. This time, Trump checked Kim, who went home without a substantive win. (He still earned points for elevating his international profile.) North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui told journalists in Hanoi that her boss seemed puzzled, unable to understand the American style of bargaining (or “calculation methods” in Korean). Rumors on the streets of Hanoi whispered about an upset North Korean leader who refused to leave his hotel room for hours and wanted to cancel the rest of this trip but could not leave Vietnam because his train was being serviced. Perhaps Kim underestimated his ability this time to manipulate a Korea-ignorant Trump into accepting what the North called its “best offer…at this stage.” Perhaps Kim believed the American president was already in his back pocket because of Trump’s public pronouncement of “falling in love.” Perhaps someone on his negotiating team will be replaced, or worse, purged.

After the Singapore summit, North Korea tried to bypass the senior and working levels of US negotiators—what it called “headwinds,” meaning Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his staff—to strike a deal directly with Trump. But perhaps Pyongyang underestimated the American headwinds’ ability to educate their boss in a manner that actually registered. It appears that Kim Jong Un might have learned the hard way what it is like dealing directly with both Trump and the United States diplomatic apparatus—each of which presents a mixed bag of cultural, political, ideological, psychological, and personality traits and differences.

Read the full article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

  • Commentary
    • October 2, 2019
    Situation Report: U.S.-North Korea Negotiations to Resume This Weekend

    After months of stalled talks, U.S. and North Korean representatives will meet this weekend to resume negotiations over North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Just this week, ...

    By Duyeon Kim, Elizabeth Rosenberg, Kristine Lee, Van Jackson & ​Neil Bhatiya

  • Commentary
    • The National Interest
    • October 1, 2019
    How to Make Proportionate Bargains with North Korea on Denuclearization and Peace

    The United States and North Korea will finally sit down for nuclear talks on October 5, according to an announcement by Pyongyang. Three months had passed without negotiations...

    By Duyeon Kim

  • Commentary
    • War on the Rocks
    • September 30, 2019
    Confronting Reality: The Bitter Medicine That North Korea Policy Needs Now

    My entire career, I’ve watched policy officials make the well-intentioned choice to seek North Korean denuclearization. In the early 2000s, it was a smart and necessary goal. ...

    By Van Jackson

  • Reports
    • September 24, 2019
    Risk Realism

    In a new report, Dr. Van Jackson argues that while pursuing North Korean denuclearization is ideal for U.S. national interests, it is no longer realistic for the near-term fut...

    By Van Jackson

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia