The historic summit in Singapore earlier this year was seen by many, especially within the US administration, as kickstarting negotiations over Pyongyang’s nuclear program. However, recent statements from David Cohen, former CIA deputy director, which have been reported by CBS news, seem to point towards a serious miscalculation in the impact of such a high profile summit on the entire denuclearisation process. Mr. Cohen is reported to have said that the summit was a ‘serious misstep’ and denouncing the President’s post-summit tweets declaring the nuclear threat from North Korea was over. The former deputy director pointed out that such a high profile summit so soon in negotiations may have severely undermined the incentive for the international community to maintain high pressure on the government in Pyongyang. Trump declaring that the threat is ‘over’ means there is no longer any tangible reason for the harshest sanctions to remain on the country. This mentality has already been demonstrated by Beijing and Moscow who stand accused of violating internationally agreed sanctions in recent weeks and months. So, was the summit in Singapore too early? Or worse, a full-blown mistake?
Many analysts and onlookers agreed that Donald Trump’s immediate acceptance of Kim Jong Un’s invitation was too, well, immediate. He reportedly did not seek advice before making his decision, and spent the next few weeks bathing in the glory of becoming a ‘master diplomat’ in his own eyes. However, it was made clear at the time how much of a major pawn in the hypothetical diplomatic chess game that the US administration had lost by agreeing to a summit with no pre-conditions, but hopes remained high amongst various onlookers and analyst communities as the summit date approached, however with the unveiling of the joint declaration and Trump’s ad-hoc press conference, most if not all pundits agreed that the United States had made major concessions without any tangible results. Even today, we have yet to see any action which could, even in the broadest terms, be considered a concrete step towards denuclearisation. In the meantime, Seoul has shifted to becoming an advocate of sanctions relief and economic cooperation with Pyongyang, given the warming inter-korean relations being fostered by working level talks and hugely symbolic gestures between the two Korean leaders.
In summary, Singapore achieved little for the US and pushed many governments internationally to slightly change their perspective on Pyongyang and it’s activities, all while the US is trying to maintain a harsh sanctions regime to enforce it’s ongoing nuclear negotiations. Trump has made it clear that a second summit is in the pipelines, potentially as soon as early 2019, and so all hopes may rest on it’s outcome and whether or not Washington can claw back some leverage over Pyongyang and force the international community to enforce it’s maximum pressure policy on Pyongyang. Those should be the main objectives of the US administration given their long-term goals.