Why North Korea Won the Handshake Summit

Sukjoon Yoon
Reuters

Sukjoon Yoon

Security, Asia

Trump's visit to the DMZ greatly benefited Kim.

Why North Korea Won the Handshake Summit

On June 30, 2019, President Donald Trump, accompanied by Chairman Kim Jong-un of North Korea, crossed the border at Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). In doing so, Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to step onto North Korean soil. Also present was South Korean president Moon Jae-in, who is keen to help mediate between America and North Korea in hopes of reviving the denuclearization talks which stalled during the Hanoi summit.

This unprecedented three-way summit appears to have been essentially a made-for-TV spectacular designed for Trump and Kim’s domestic audiences. Trump’s publicity machine constantly emphasizes the feel-good one-to-one personal relationship between Trump and Kim, but a fundamental question remains: is there or will there be any actual progress on denuclearization? 

So what did Kim get from the meeting? It seems he is closer to persuading Trump to accept the North Korean agenda: no pressure for regime change, and a freeze on North Korea’s missile and nuclear program instead of a ban, thus tacitly recognizing North Korea as a nuclear power. Probably it means that the dismantling of the Yongbyon nuclear facility will be traded for the partial lifting of sanctions against North Korea. If this is the outcome, then clearly Kim will be the big winner of the meeting. 

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