Steps Trump should take toward denuclearization

Steps Trump should take toward denuclearization
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While the U.S. focuses its attention on the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program as it prepares for the upcoming Summit with North Korea, other actions to address the current tension on the Korean Peninsula are moving forward.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his government have been making efforts to build a better strategic relationship with the North Korean Leader Kim Jung Un and his government. Diplomacy between the two countries has led to actions that can provide a better atmosphere for future engagements, reflecting the recognition that a lasting improvement after years of difficult relations is slow but must be a deliberate process that takes time.

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Seoul has played a leading role in engaging North Korea, recognizing it has a vested interest in promoting positive relations between the Koreas. Kim Jong Un and North Korea have been reciprocating efforts by South Korea, matching overtures of their own, leading to agreements that add up to a pattern for more decisive actions. These Korean exchanges can set the stage for an eventual Peace Treaty to formally end the Korean War. 

The talks between the Koreas have to date been generally welcomed by the U.S. However, the U.S. should go further. If the U.S. wants North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, it must also invest in a reduction in tension on the Peninsula. Steps toward a peace treaty can provide the foundation for future successful negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea

None of the peace and security issues of concern within the region, whether on North Korean nuclear and missiles or an official end to the Korean War, are ones that can be fully resolved bilaterally between any two countries. Despite the focus of the U.S. and North Korea on nuclear disarmament issues, other regional actors, particularly South Korea, will need to be involved because they have their unique relationships with North Korea that will play a role in the North Korean final decision making on its nuclear arsenal.

As we can recall, there was much angst raised when President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Camerota clashes with Trump's immigration head over president's tweet LA Times editorial board labels Trump 'Bigot-in-Chief' Trump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates MORE agreed to end the U.S. and South Korean military exercises at the U.S. and North Korea Summit last year, before discussing the issue with South Korea. Seoul has a keen interest in any decisions regarding joint military exercises on its territory. 

Last year, we witnessed many efforts by the two Koreas to nurture their relationship. In addition to three Summits, the sides marched together at the Olympics, discussed reconnecting road and rail links that remained cut since the Korean War, and discussed caring out joint transport surveys and the reinstatement of a joint military commission.

The two sides also talked about the gradual removal of landmines and guard posts within the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). They have also discussed reforestation and health and disease prevention, and a joint liaison office opened in the North’s border city of Kaesong.

These talks and actions have moved well past discussions and activities between the U.S. and North Korea. South and North Korea realized there is a process that is needed before it can achieve the more challenging goal of a peace treaty. Smaller steps are required first.

As we watch the two Koreas work to reduce tensions on the Peninsula, there is an argument to be made that those engagements, and the U.S. and North Korea discussions, should continue on separate but parallel paths. These two efforts are not mutually exclusive.

Such a process of parallel negotiations should be a deliberate part of the U.S. overall diplomatic policy for engaging both countries, making it clear that the U.S. is committed to those processes as a way forward. In that respect, the U.S. should continue to not only support South Korean overtures but do what it can to reduce tensions that lay the foundation for a successful effort in building trust.

For example, the U.S. can start discussions with North Korea on the reunification of American Korean and North Korean families. Currently, there are approximately 100,000 Korean Americans with families in North Korea. The U.S. is also considering an economic package that could encourage North Korea to agree to dismantle his nuclear weapons program. This would loosen up a bit Washington’s past efforts of “maximum pressure” on North Korea and make the prospects of denuclearization more realistic. 

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Taking a more measured and holistic policy approach in U.S. engagements with North and South Korea can benefit U.S. efforts to rid the peninsula of nuclear weapons. The current diplomatic engagements on the peninsula by the two Koreas that can one day possibly lead to a peace treaty and U.S. efforts regarding denuclearization can be two-sides of our overall diplomatic strategy. 

Seeking disarmament must be paired with efforts on other fronts that promote the atmosphere needed to lead to an agreement. Efforts to convince North Korea to move away from its reliance on nuclear weapons cannot be made in a vacuum. A peace treaty that would formally end the Korean War and strengthens existing relationships among various actors on the peninsula is an integral part of creating a more promising future for all parties. 

Bonnie Jenkins is the founder and president of the Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security and Conflict Transformation (WCAPS) nonprofit organization. She is also a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution. Previously, Jenkins was an ambassador at the U.S. Department of State from 2009-17, where she served as coordinator for threat reduction programs in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation.