US and North Korean leaders are set to meet for nuclear talks in Singapore on Monday. For President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, it will be the first such meeting between a sitting US president and a current North Korean leader.
The summit follows what had been a tumultuous 2017 for Trump and Kim, during which both men traded escalating insults and nuclear threats.
The Trump administration has largely continued what it calls its “maximum pressure” campaign on the North, but has moved toward a softer tone as the summit approached.
Trump and his advisers have said the US would accept nothing less than full denuclearization before sanctions against the North are lifted, and before North Korea can be fully welcomed into the fold of the broader diplomatic community.
The results from previous summits and peace talks show that getting North Korea to seriously commit to denuclearization at any level is an immense challenge. During past negotiations, North Korea has reneged on agreements, and after getting what they wanted, and then failed to hold up their end of the bargain.
Here are some of the previous talks from the past 20 years:
Inter-Korean summit (2000):
For the first time since the division of the Korean Peninsula, the leaders of the two countries held a summit in June 2000. Former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung met with former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il for two days in Pyongyang and the leaders produced an eight-point peace agreement.
What worked: The 2000 summit came roughly two years after Kim Dae-jung introduced the so-called “Sunshine policy,” an initiative designed to improve relations between the Koreas.
After the June 2000 summit, family members in North and South Korea separated by the Korean War were able to reunite, and the two Koreas marched together in the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Kim Dae-jung was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts.
What didn’t: It was revealed three years after the summit that South Korean officials paid the North the equivalent of about $200 million to attend the summit. Six officials were convicted of making illegal international payments, and the scandal tainted Kim Dae-jung’s legacy.
More importantly, the short-term friendliness between the two countries soured. North Korea admitted to enriching uranium in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it subsequently withdrew from in 2003.
Six-party talks (2003-2009):
The six-party talks were a series of denuclearization negotiations held between North Korea, South Korea, Russia, China, Japan, and the United States over the course of six years. They were prompted by North Korea’s withdrawl from the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and their interception of a US spy plane.
What worked: In 2005, the parties reached a framework deal through which North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for food assistance, economic support, and an end to diplomatic isolation.
The agreement quickly broke down when the US froze assets belonging to Macau-based Banco Delta Asia, which was suspected of laundering millions of dollars for the North Korean regime. The regime reacted negatively to that development. It ramped up its nuclear and missile program as a result.
The parties briefly salvaged the agreement by providing North Korea with more food and energy aid as well as un-freezing North Korean assets held in Banco Delta Asia. In exchange, the regime cooperated, and began to dismantle its Yongbyon nuclear plant under the guidance of the US, which resulted in the Bush administration lifting sanctions.
What didn’t work: Six years of tireless diplomatic efforts ultimately yielded little progress on net. Despite North Korea taking serious steps towards denuclearization, the US and North Korea failed to agree on a verification protocol, undoing all the progress that had occurred.
North Korea then resumed nuclear development and expelled international inspectors in 2009. Missile tests, nuclear tests, and sinking a South Korean warship followed, causing the UN to impose even tougher sanctions.
The failure of the six-party talks demonstrates the key problem in negotiating with North Korea: even after getting everything it wanted out of the talks, the country failed to hold up its end of the bargain and resumed a hostile posture and its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Inter-Korean summit (2007):
Liberal South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun sought to continue the legacy of his predecessor Kim Dae-jung by pursuing friendly relations and cooperation with the North. From October 2-4 that year, he and Kim Jong Il met in Pyongyang.
What worked: The two leaders reached an eight-point peace agreement that built on the agreement in 2000. It included ending military hostilities, pursuing economic cooperation, and implementing the 2005 framework agreement that came out of the six-party talks.
What didn’t: None of the objectives in the 2007 peace agreement ever materialized, due to North Korea’s continued nuclear and missile testing and the election of more conservative South Korean presidents who opted to take a harder line on the North.
Inter-Korean summit (2018):
The first inter-Korean summit in 11 years was held between North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and the South’s Moon Jae-in. It marked the first time a North Korean leader stepped across the border separating the two Koreas for the first time since the Korean War ended in 1953.
What worked: The two leaders came to a historic agreement to formally sign an armistice to end the Korean War. Some symbolic but significant signs of cooperation were agreed to: South Korea stopped blasting propaganda and K-pop music over the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ), and North Korea set its time 30 minutes forward to align with South Korea.
What didn’t work: In response to what it viewed as aggressive rhetoric from the US and in reaction to US-South Korean military exercises, North Korea ramped up its own rhetoric. North Korean officials called out the US Vice President Mike Pence, which led Trump to cancel the June 12 US-North Korea summit.
North Korea quickly sought to rescue the talks, and the Trump administration agreed to the meeting once again.