Mike Whitney: What Really Happened in Hanoi? Trump Sabotages North Korea Summit to Appease the Hawks
What Really Happened in Hanoi?
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hile the western media has written off last weekend’s summit in Hanoi as a failure, the talks did help to burnish Kim Jong-un’s reputation as a sincere statesman committed to peacefully resolving the nuclear issue. This is a significant development for the simple reason that Kim needs to continue to build popular support for his cause if he hopes to prevail in the long-term. In that regard, the lifting of sanctions is not nearly as important as Kim’s broader goal of ending Washington’s military occupation of the Korean peninsula and reunifying the country. In order to achieve those objectives, Kim will need the support of his allies in Moscow and Beijing as well as that of the Korean people. His disciplined performance in Hanoi suggests that he is entirely deserving of that support.
There’s no way to know whether Kim expected President Trump to put the kibosh on the deal or not. But with uber-hawks like Mike Pompeo and John Bolton at the bargaining table, he must have figured that there was a high probability of failure. Was that why Kim made such a generous offer during the negotiations? Was it part of a plan to make him look good because he knew Trump would throw a wrench in the works?
It’s hard to say, but it’s clear that Kim emerged from the confab looking much more amenable and statesmanlike than Trump. From the very beginning, Kim appeared to be fully committed to working with his American counterparts to hammer out a deal that was mutually acceptable. He basically showed the world that he was willing to offer up the bulk of the DPRK nuclear weapons-ballistic missile programs on a silver platter in exchange for a partial lifting of sanctions. It was an extraordinarily generous offer which should have led to a real breakthrough, but it didn’t. Instead, the offer was breezily rejected without debate or counter-offer. Why? Why would Trump shrug off an offer to permanently halt all long-range rocket and nuclear tests and to “completely dismantle all the nuclear production facilities” at Yongbyon, the DPRK’s primary nuclear enrichment facility? Isn’t that what Washington wanted from the get go?
Author Michael Haas disputes this account in an article at antiwar.com. Haas says there WAS a counter-offer that expanded Washington’s demands to include other weapons systems unrelated to the nuclear file. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
“The most probable reason for lack of progress was that the United States made new demands at Hanoi. Although North Korea’s proposal for limited if robust sanctions relief had been discussed weeks prior to the meeting, American negotiators in Hanoi suddenly asked for destruction of a second nuclear enrichment facility that Pyongyang had not previously acknowledged. Even though North Korea apparently agreed to that demand, another unanticipated request was not only for full disclosure of all nuclear and missile sites but also for a full accounting of all biological and chemical weapons. In other words, the American negotiators moved the goalposts regarding the focus of the potential agreement, startling their North Korea counterparts, who then countered that such a step might require removal of all sanctions. Upping the ante on one side was mirrored by the other side, giving Trump an excuse to walk away.” (“Why the Hanoi Summit Failed”, antiwar.com)
Okay, so according to Haas, the Trump team deliberately blindsided Kim in order to sabotage the negotiations. That sounds about right. Of course none of this has popped up in the western media where US leaders are typically extolled for their unshakable virtue while their rivals, like Kim, are vilified as “brutal dictators who can’t be trusted.” Regrettably, the facts tell a different story.
What was particularly puzzling about the summit was the manner in which the negotiations were conducted, that is, there were no negotiations at all, not really. The Trump delegation simply listened politely to Kim’s offers, scratched their chins and then rejected them without debate or counter proposal. In other words, the whole summit was a fraud. The US did not come to argue, dicker, quibble, wrangle or haggle on any of the key issues. In their minds, the final verdict was already was set in stone before they ever touched down in Hanoi. It was a done deal. The sanctions would continue to be enforced until the DPRK government collapsed or until hell froze over, which ever came first. The media would like readers to believe that the credulous Trump narrowly escaped a lethal trap set by the evil despot, Kim Jong un. But that’s not what happened at all. What happened is that Kim showed his willingness to go the extra mile for peace but was slapped down by an unreasonable, inflexible and intractable adversary who remains focused laserlike on preserving the status quo, intensifying the sanctions and paving the way to regime change. That’s what the summit really proved, that one side is looking for compromise and resolution while the other favors confrontation and conflict.
So why did Trump agree to go to Hanoi if he had no intention of hashing out a deal? What did he hope to gain by looking rigid and unyielding while Kim made every effort to find common ground? Didn’t he know that leaders in China, Russia and South Korea would be following every word, putting every minute detail under the microscope, and convening high-level meetings to decipher what really took place?
Maybe those things don’t matter to Trump but they’re certainly going affect the way that Kim’s allies address the sanctions issue in the future. After Hanoi, I would expect Russia and China will look for ways circumvent the sanctions in order to reward Kim for the steps he’s taken towards denuclearization, after all, Russia and China do not seek a permanently divided peninsula or regime change. They simply want Kim to abandon his nukes program for the sake of regional stability. That was the original purpose of the sanctions, to stop the provocative nuclear and missile tests that were intensifying the clash with Washington. But now the sanctions have taken on a life of their own and are being used to pursue a geopolitical agenda that conflicts with Russian and Chinese national security interests. That wasn’t plan.
Neither Putin nor Xi Jinping want to see North Korea brought to its knees creating another failed state that becomes a hotbed of terrorism and anarchy. That’s not what they want at all. They want a North Korea that is ready to participate in their massive economic integration plans (One Belt, One Road, Eurasian Economic Union etc) They want a North Korea that enjoys the benefits of modernization, state of the art technology and infrastructure, high-speed rail, gas pipelines and ever-improving standards of living. They want a North Korea that is an ally, a partner, and a friend that will participate in the shared vision of a giant pan-Asian free trade zone that benefits all equitably while respecting the sovereign rights of the individual nation-states. They want to implement a regional development plan that doesn’t put western banks and corporations at the top of the ladder where they arbitrarily impose ‘the rules of the game’ on everyone else. This is what Beijing and Moscow want, and this is what Kim wants. He wants to set aside his nukes, end his conflict with Washington and get on with the business of making money. Sound reasonable?
The one fly in the ointment is Washington, which is determined to torpedo Kim’s plan by any means possible. Pompeo and Bolton know what’s going on, they know Kim is not a communist ideologue or a Marxist revolutionary. They know he aspires to be Korea’s Deng Xiaoping, the leader who opened Chinese markets to the outside world. Here’s how author John Delury summed it up in a recent op-ed in the New York Times:
“Mr. Kim wants to be a great economic reformer….From the moment Mr. Kim took power almost seven years ago, he signaled a shift in the regime’s focus, from security to prosperity. …He decentralized decision-making,…lifted curbs on informal grass-roots markets and small private businesses”….and “called for “a breakthrough” in “re-energizing” the economy. In April… he said, all efforts should go to “socialist economic construction.”
Since then, the-economy-as-priority has been regular fare in North Korea’s media and from propaganda organs. Mr. Kim spent the summer months visiting farms, factories and tourist resorts, often chastising cadres for failing to implement development projects fast enough. During recent festivities celebrating the country’s founding, the parade featured floats with economic slogans and no ICBMs. If the iconic image of Mr. Kim in 2017 shows him watching a missile test, the one for 2018 shows him inspecting a fish cannery….
Mr. Kim wants North Korea to become a normal East Asian economy, catch up with and integrate into the region, and it’s in everyone’s interest to help him do so…”(“Kim Jong-un Has a Dream. The U.S. Should Help Him Realize It”, New York Times)
The author is wrong about one thing, it is NOT in everyone’s interest to help Kim achieve his objectives, in fact, Washington believes it’s a threat to their national security and their so-called pivot to Asia strategy, which is a plan to economically dominate Asia through the next century. If Kim’s regional economic integration plan goes forward, you can stick a fork in Washington’s strategy. Here’s more from the same article:
“On his visit to Pyongyang this week, South Korea President Moon Jae-in brought the heads of state-backed rail and energy corporations, along with the CEOs of South Korea’s top conglomerates. No deals were struck, and the group has been mum so far about its meetings. But its presence was enough to send the message that South Korea stands ready to move forward with major economic cooperation projects with the North.
In one astonishing scene, Mr. Moon addressed a crowd of 150,000 cheering North Koreans and pledged to “hasten a future of common prosperity.” He praised Pyongyang’s “remarkable progress” and said he understood “what kind of country Chairman Kim and his compatriots in the North want to build.”
In a formal agreement known as the Pyongyang Declaration, the two leaders committed to reconnect rail and road links between the two countries, reopen a frozen joint industrial zone in Kaesong and a tourist site at Mount Kumgang, and make plans for a special economic zone, of the kind Deng promoted to open up China to foreign investment in the 1980s.” (“Kim Jong-un Has a Dream. The U.S. Should Help Him Realize It”, New York Times)
Can you see what’s going on? The economic integration plans are moving forward even before the nuclear issue has been resolved, the sanctions have been lifted, or a formal treaty ending the war has been signed. The entire region appears to be breaking out of Washington’s orbit and charting a new course on its own. Naturally, this has ruffled a few feathers at the White House where Trump’s advisers have concocted various means of derailing the project. Sabotaging the summit in Hanoi is just the first volley in this new confrontation., there are bound to be many more in the days to come. Check out this clip from Business Insider:
“US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that if North Korea agrees to fully dismantle its nuclear weapons program, then the United States will allow American companies to invest in the country.
“This will be Americans coming in — private-sector Americans, not the US taxpayer — helping build the energy grid,” Pompeo said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” “They need enormous amounts of electricity in North Korea, to work with them to develop infrastructure.”… Pompeo added that Americans will also help invest in North Korean infrastructure and agriculture to help feed its people if the country meets US demands.
All the things the North Korean people need — [including] the capacity for American agriculture to support North Korea so they can eat meat and have healthy lives,” he said. “Those are the things that if we get what the president has demanded, the complete, verifiable, irreversible de-nuclearization of North Korea, that the American people will offer in spades.” (“Pompeo says American companies could invest in North Korea if Kim Jong Un meets US demands”, Business Insider)
See? None of this has anything to do with Kim’s nukes, it’s all about money. The administration wants the North to open its markets on Washington’s terms which means the free movement of capital, safeguards on foreign investment, the mass privatization of state-owned assets, and preferential treatment for the uncompetitive, monopolistic US-backed mega-corporations that control the state behind the illusion of democratic government. And that’s why the Summit failed, because Kim wants to join an emerging coalition of independent nations that are building a prosperous multipolar world for the future.
"The evil that men do"...
“During the Korean War, the US dropped more bombs on North Korea than it had dropped in the entire Pacific theater during World War II. This carpet bombing, which included 32,000 tons of napalm, often deliberately targeted civilian as well as military targets, devastating the country far beyond what was necessary to win the war. Whole cities were destroyed, with many thousands of innocent civilians killed and many more left homeless and hungry…. Dean Rusk, a supporter of the war and later secretary of state, said the United States bombed “everything that moved in North Korea, every brick standing on top of another.” ..The number of inhabitants of Pyongyang killed by bomb splinters, burnt alive and suffocated by smoke is incalculable…” (“Americans have forgotten what we did to North Korea“, Vox World)
The US-North Korea Summit in Hanoi has ended in failure just as all previous attempts at peace have ended in failure. This is by design. Washington has refused to incrementally lift the sanctions on the DPRK because sanctions are Washington’s way of prosecuting an economic war against an enemy who, for the last six and a half decades, has been the target of US hostility. In case you hadn’t noticed, US policy towards North Korea is regime change, the same as it is towards Iran, Cuba, Russia, Venezuela and any other country that doesn’t accept Washington’s moral superiority and divine right to rule the world. Economic strangulation (sanctions) is just one way that Washington cracks down on the dissidents and imposes its will with an iron fist. But don’t kid yourself, this isn’t about nuclear weapons, in fact, the Trump administration hasn’t even bothered to assemble a team of weapons inspectors to investigate probable nuclear sites. Why? Because it isn’t about nuclear weapons, it’s about regime change, it’s about inflicting maximum pain and suffering on the Korean people so they take up arms against the government and violently depose Kim and his cabinet. That’s the goal. That’s always been the goal. The blocking of heating oil, essential medicines and vital food supplies are all being used to promote social unrest, fratricidal warfare, and political anarchy. Sound familiar? It should, Washington has it down to an art.
Kim Jong Un attended the summit in Hanoi hoping that Trump could be persuaded to keep up his end of the bargain. He hoped that Trump would overrule the warmongering political class and honor the agreement he made in Singapore in June, 2018. Here’s a summary what took place at the first Summit:
“In June Kim Jong-un met U.S. President Trump in Singapore. A “freeze for freeze” – the stop of nuclear and missile testing in exchange for a stop of military maneuvers – was agreed upon. A Joint Statement was signed with a list of future tasks in similar chronological order as in the Panmunjeom Declaration (numbering added):
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is the basic outline of the deal between Trump and Kim. Now whatever readers may think of Kim Jong-un, he’s not a fool. He did not agree to terminate all nuclear and missile testing, and decommission his nuclear arsenal for nothing. A deal was made to normalize relations and create a “robust peace regime” on the peninsula followed by a phased decommissioning of nuclear weapons. Trump made this deal and, now, he has broken the deal, just as the United States has broken similar deals in the past, like the Agreed Framework under President Bill Clinton. Here’s a bit of background on the AF from a Washington Post editorial by Jimmy Carter (November 24, 2010):
“…in September 2005, an agreement … reaffirmed the basic premises of the 1994 accord. (The Agreed Framework) Its text included denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, a pledge of non-aggression by the United States and steps to evolve a permanent peace agreement to replace the U.S.-North Korean-Chinese cease-fire that has been in effect since July 1953. Unfortunately, no substantive progress has been made since 2005…
“This past July I was invited to return to Pyongyang to secure the release of an American, Aijalon Gomes, with the proviso that my visit would last long enough for substantive talks with top North Korean officials. They spelled out in detail their desire to develop a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and a permanent cease-fire, based on the 1994 agreements and the terms adopted by the six powers in September 2005…
“North Korean officials have given the same message to other recent American visitors and have permitted access by nuclear experts to an advanced facility for purifying uranium. The same officials had made it clear to me that this array of centrifuges would be ‘on the table’ for discussions with the United States, although uranium purification – a very slow process – was not covered in the 1994 agreements.
“Pyongyang has sent a consistent message that during direct talks with the United States, it is ready to conclude an agreement to end its nuclear programs, put them all under IAEA inspection and conclude a permanent peace treaty to replace the ‘temporary’ cease-fire of 1953. We should consider responding to this offer. The unfortunate alternative is for North Koreans to take whatever actions they consider necessary to defend themselves from what they claim to fear most: a military attack supported by the United States, along with efforts to change the political regime.” (“North Korea’s consistent message to the U.S.”, President Jimmy Carter, Washington Post)
This is just one of many agreements brushed aside by the foreign policy establishment and their bloodthirsty allies in the White House. There have been others as well, like this recent proposal by Russia that would have dismantled Pyongyang’s primary nuclear enrichment facility and peacefully ended the threat of nuclear weapons development in the north. Here’s a blurb from an article by Melvin Goodman at Counterpunch:
“According to The Washington Post, Russia made a secret proposal to North Korea last fall to advance negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Moscow offered North Korea a nuclear power plant in return for the dismantling of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Russia would operate the nuclear plant and transfer all byproducts and waste back to Russia so that North Korea could not exploit the plant to build nuclear weapons.
The idea of trading off a nuclear power plant for a dismantling of nuclear weaponry is not a new one. President Bill Clinton negotiated an arms control agreement with North Korea in 1994, promising Pyongyang two light-water reactors in return for a nuclear freeze. Construction on the site for the reactors began in the 1990s, but the Pentagon and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission blocked delivery of the reactors. As a result, North Korea eventually walked away from the agreement in the first years of the Bush administration.” (“Russia’s Proposal for North Korean Denuclearization: Will It Survive John Bolton?”, Counterpunch)
Now if nuclear weapons were Washington’s main concern, then they had plenty of opportunities to deal with them. But the nukes were not the top priority, were they? The top priority was crushing the regime by any means possible and replacing it with a compliant stooge who would do Washington’s bidding. That’s the real objective. Here’s more from Thursday’s New York Times:
“Mr. Kim had offered to dismantle the North’s most important nuclear facility (Yongbyon) if the United States lifted the harsh sanctions imposed on his nation…“It was about the sanctions,” Mr. Trump said. “Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, but we couldn’t do that.”…
But in a late-night news conference, North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, contradicted Mr. Trump’s account, saying the North had asked only for some sanctions to be lifted — those that affect ordinary people — in exchange for “permanently and completely” dismantling the main facility in the presence of American experts…(“Trump’s Talks With Kim Jong-un Collapse, and Both Sides Point Fingers”, New York Times)
So it looks like Trump lied to the media about Kim’s demands.(which is par for the course) But, keep in mind, Kim did not ask for anything material from the US, just an easing of some of the sanctions to reciprocate for the many steps he had taken to normalize relations. But Trump refused to make any good faith gesture at all, he simply stuck to the administration’s hardline approach that stipulates that sanctions will not be lifted until there is complete, verifiable denuclearisation. No wiggle room at all. Even so, Kim said that he would not resume his nuclear and ballistic missile testing and that he would participate in any future negotiations. In other words, he was slapped down by Trump, but remained stoically cooperative. Good for him.
[dropcap]O[/dropcap]stensibly, the Hanoi Summit looks like high-level talks between the US and North Korea, but there’s more here than meets the eye. In truth, Kim is playing to audiences in Seoul, Moscow and Beijing. In other words, his efforts at peacemaking and denuclearization have more to do with critical trading partners and allies, then they do with Donald Trump. Here’s an excerpt that helps to explain:
In February 2017, China restricted all coal imports from North Korea until 2018. This is considered to be extremely harmful to the North Korean economy, as coal was the top export of the nation, and China was their top trading partner…
On 28 September 2017… China ordered all North Korean companies operating in China to cease operations within 120 days. By January 2018 customs statistics showed that trade between the two countries had fallen to the lowest level recorded.
- China destroyed the North’s import and export trade, including the North’s primary export, coal.
- China shut down all the DPRK’s companies operating in China. (terminating the recycling of revenues back to the North.)
- China cut off access to foreign banking. (and, thus, foreign investment)
- China stopped providing any financial support for the North.
Get the picture? China is North Korea’s lifeline, which is why Kim is being so cooperative. Naturally, Beijing does not want the smaller states like North Korea to upset the regional balance of power by stockpiling nuclear weapons. That won’t do at all, which is why China agreed to impose sanctions on the North after Kim launched provocative nuclear tests in the fall of 2017. Bottom line: It is China that forced the DPRK to the bargaining table, not Trump. And it is China that has scripted much of Kim’s performance in Hanoi. It goes without saying that any solution to the current US-DPRK confrontation will be mapped out in Beijing too.
Quite a bit actually, if Kim continues along the same path he is today, that is, he must continue the denuclearization process even though Trump refuses to reciprocate. He must also continue to work closely with his allies to reduce tensions, build confidence and strengthen popular support for change, collaboration and reunification. If Washington is going to be inflexible, then Kim must build a coalition for support. And, in that regard, he appears to be headed in the right direction. Here is Kim declaring his “firm will” to denuclearize the peninsula:
“We declared at home and abroad that we would neither make and test nuclear weapons any longer nor use and proliferate them, and we have taken various practical measures” toward this end. He said he is “ready to meet the U.S. president again anytime and will make efforts to obtain without fail results which can be welcomed by the international community.”
Kim’s strategy is not complicated: It’s called ‘public relations’ and he is winning the battle big time. Check out how Kim’s public approval has skyrocketed in South Korea after the first summit with Trump. This is form Time magazine:
“Friday’s meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un prompted 78 percent of respondents to a Korea Research Center poll published this week to say they trusted the North Korean leader. That’s a far cry from the 10 percent of South Koreans who said they approved of Kim in a Gallup Korea poll conducted just a month-and-a-half ago…One summit has changed the perceptions of an entire nation.”
(“Kim Jong Un Now Has a Nearly 80% Approval Rating… in South Korea”, Time)
In the United States, of course, where the “brutal dictator” meme is reiterated ad nauseam on every news program, Kim’s approval ratings are still quite low. Even so, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll, “54% of respondents said that they thought the (first) summit reduced the likelihood of a nuclear war..” So even in the US, Kim has succeeded in appearing less threatening than he was before. That is quite an accomplishment given the way he is demonized by the media.
More importantly, China and Russia, have been increasingly supportive of Kim’s efforts and think the sanctions issue should be revisited at the UN. Here’s a clip from a recent Q and A with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:
“Pyongyang has announced and abides by a moratorium on nuclear testing and ballistic missile launches. We believe that the Security Council could at least make certain gestures by easing or lifting the sanctions where they impede the implementation of joint South Korean-North Korean projects. At their recent meeting, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Chairman of the DPRK State Council Kim Jong-un agreed to restore the railway link between the two countries. Why shouldn’t the Security Council analyze how the sanctions regime could be modified in such a way as to incentivize the railway reunification of the two Koreas?” (Sergei Lavrov, Valdai)
The point is that Kim has settled on a plan that doesn’t involve the US that will eventually lead to the easing of sanctions. His steps towards peaceful interaction with the South accompanied by gradual denuclearisation are moving forward despite Washington’s obstructionism. And despite what brainwashed Americans may think, Kim is a modern man who wants to implement dramatic reforms that will open the DPRK’s economy to foreign investment, infrastructure development, high-speed rail, mineral extraction, gas pipelines, Siberian oil, shipbuilding and private market activity. (aka–The Moon-Putin plan) Kim is neither a Marxist revolutionary nor a Communist ideologue. He is a bright, Swiss educated, basketball-loving, Karaoke singing father of three who has decided to set aside his misguided nuclear weapons program and join in a regional development plan that will modernize his country, lift his people out of poverty and draw the splintered peninsula back into one prosperous and peaceful nation. Washington should assist him in his effort.
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