North Korea: One year ago, the Trump – Kim Jong-un Singapore Summit

12 juin 2019

It already seems old and so far away the cheerful, optimistic if not surrealist image of the unusual encounter of opposites, on June 12, 2018, on the occasion of a summit gathering in the peaceful Singaporean city-state a head of the American executive in office (Donald Trump) and the dictator (Kim Jong-un) of the unpredictable Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK ; North Korea) ! ‘’The summit between the United States and the DPRK – the first in history – was a historic event of great importance in overcoming decades of tensions and hostilities between the two countries and in opening a new chapter[1] », they said, both in Washington and Pyongyang.

Twelve months later, the excessive enthusiasm that enveloped this unthinkable event a semester earlier gave way to a heavy, worrying atmosphere.

One quarter after an act II (Trump – Kim Jong-un summit on February 27, 2019 in Hanoi) with dividends as meagre as they reflect the considerable gap between Washington and Pyongyang’s positions at the time of the famous denuclearization, the Korean Peninsula seems to be reappropriating a familiar scenario, dictated from the north of the 38th parallel, suffered by the Land of the Morning Calm: that of a chapter where Pyongyang’s impatience turns into tension in Seoul, where the northern dictatorship reshuffles its logorrhoea and warnings towards Washington while reminding its southern neighbour, in increasingly explicit turns, how much the « Korean spring », initiated in early 2018, remains a tenuous, uncertain exercise, subject above all to the goodwill of the Kimist dictatorship; an unfortunate development that at this time seems to be of far less concern to the White House than to the Blue House (the South Korean presidency).

On the Washington side –  »busy » in this spring twilight 2019 with a series of devious Asian issues (trade war with Beijing; desire to withdraw from Afghanistan; rising tension with Tehran) -, we pretend not to be (too) moved by Pyongyang’s impatience, even if the latter is already visibly blunt: ‘’The United States should look back at the past year and think about the right strategy to adopt before it is too late (…) and respond to our request as soon as possible. There is a limit to our patience[2], » a spokesman for the North Korean foreign minister rang out on June 5. Before continuing, in a mixed register of crumpled susceptibility and no charge warning :  »The fact that the United States has called the DPRK a ‘rogue state’ dialogue partner is a flagrant violation of our sovereignty and dignity, and it is nothing less than a declaration of confrontation[3] ».

During his recent trip to Bern (Switzerland), the head of American diplomacy, Mike Pompeo gave the measure of the difficult approach of his administration towards his susceptible atomic interlocutor in East Asia, forced to show both constancy and firmness… without closing the door to an early (desired) resumption of bilateral dialogue, nor giving Pyongyang reason to be more involved in (ballistic) provocation: ‘’Yes, indeed, they (North Koreans) probably violated UN Security Council resolutions (by firing new missiles in May). But the most important thing is that the campaign we are engaged in – not just the United States, but the whole world – is delivering the results we are looking for (…). We are working to find a negotiated solution for Kim Jong-un to honour his commitment, his commitment to his own people and his commitment to President Trump in Singapore to denuclearize his country”[4].

These words are in line with the latest releases on the White House tenant, who now prefers to see in his North Korean counterpart a  »very smart man[5] », who is a matter of cuddling fine words and vague promises of future economic success (!) rather than a  »little rocket man[6] »…

Caught as always between these two fires, South Korea and its very enterprising president Moon Jae-in deplore it without complaining too much or totally despairing of the impasse in which the unnatural duo Trump – Kim Jong-un clutches the 75 million Koreans. Clenching their teeth, making a round back and a good face, fearing both the impromptu tweets and the inconsistencies of its American counterpart and the eruptions of anger and its various manifestations (threatening rhetoric, ballistic tests) of his young « colleague » from the North, the South Korean head of state is working – on a full-time basis – to spare Washington and Pyongyang, to temper the fervour and ease resentment, to maintain a strategic alliance (with the USA) without sacrificing the benefit of a rapprochement, a new détente of eighteen months with the DPRK; strenuous exercises, which must be constantly renewed and not being moved, without guarantees of results…

In Seoul, a little more than a year after the inter-Korean summit (only the third of its kind since the end of the Korean War in 1953) in Panmunjom (April 27, 2018) where Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un agreed, in the Peace House of this emblematic site of the peninsula’s division, of the need to project oneself towards a future where confrontation and tension would give way to denuclearization and cooperation[7], one begins to believe in a forthcoming reopening of the US-North Korea dialogue, in an act III that is more in line with the initial promises and expectations.

While waiting for this possible resurrection, we are showing ourselves, on the side of the Blue House, between resilience and hope, realistic and « cautiously optimistic[8] » on the chances of a possible new inter-Korean summit, in the ‘’not-so-distant future’’. For lack of anything better at this time…


[1] Joint statement United States / North Korea, June 12, 2018.

[2] ‘’N. Korea urges U.S. to change calculus, warns patience has limit’’, Yonhap News Agency, June 5, 2019.

[3] ‘’N. Korea protests against ‘rogue state’ remark by Washington’’, Yonhap News Agency, June 5, 2019.

[4] ‘’Pompeo says N.K. launches ‘probably’ violated U.N. resolutions’’, Yonhap News Agency, June 4, 2019.

[5] ‘’Trump urges Kim to seize chance to transform N.K. through denuclearization’’, Yonhap News Agency, May 27 2019.

[6] Tweet from D. Trump, November 30, 2017.

[7] Panmunjom Declaration on Peace, Prosperity and Reunification of the Korean Peninsula, April 27, 2018.

[8] ‘’Cheong Wa Dae ‘cautiously optimistic’ about possible inter-Korean summit’’, Yonhap News Agency, June 7, 2019.
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