As the first sitting president in U.S. history to step into North Korea, Donald Trump’s action could be seen as a significant representation of the U.S. intention eventually to conclude a peace treaty.
However, the event will only be considered “historic” if it leads to a final and fully verifiable denuclearization agreement; otherwise it will just be a photo opportunity.
Going forward, a key indicator will be the success of working level negotiations. While Trump empowered his team, mentioning Stephen Biegun by name for the first time, and letting him stand at his side during the presser in Freedom House, it is still unclear who Biegun’s counterpart will be. Most likely, vice-foreign minister Choe Son Hui, who has deep experience on these issues.
A freeze on North Korea’s nuclear operations is desirable, not as an end state, but as a first step in a process of full denuclearization.
Furthermore, a freeze on production of fissile material, inspections of Yongbyon and Kangson, and a declaration are all desirable goals in the negotiation for the United States.
Failure to achieve results this time would be concerning given that the significance of summits to energize diplomacy will be diminished.
While the Panmunjom summit engenders some optimism, North Korea may be attempting to ameliorate international pressure with dialogue to gain sanctions relief, while eyeing the U.S. presidential election campaign.
Victor Cha is a senior adviser and the inaugural holder of the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. is an internationally recognized analyst, award-winning author, and lecturer on North Korean defense and intelligence affairs and ballistic missile development in developing countries. He is concurrently senior fellow for Imagery Analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Security (CSIS); senior adviser and imagery analyst for the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK); author for IHS Markit (formerly the Jane’s Information Group); and publisher and editor of KPA Journal. Formerly, he has served as founder and CEO of KPA Associates, LLC, senior imagery analyst for 38 North at Johns Hopkins SAIS, chief analytics officer and co-founder of AllSource Analysis, Inc., and senior all-source analyst for DigitalGlobe’s Analysis Center.