For many people who follow the political developments between the United States and North Korea, the disappointment after the Hanoi summit was palpable.
Rumors had been circulating of a potential agreement that would bring an official end to the Korean War and potentially open liaison offices, generally a precursor to future embassies.
As news leaked of an abrupt end to the summit on Feb. 28, there were differing accounts of what happened and what exactly was on the negotiating table between the two countries.
The United States took a more hard-line position than some negotiators indicated ahead of the summit. For its part, North Korea may have asked for more than what the U.S. delegation was anticipating.
Amid the cacophony of speculation over who “tricked” whom, there are a few takeaways for the road ahead:
— Diplomacy is difficult and will not always follow a linear path. Despite disappointment with the summit outcome, the fact that the two countries’ leaders met face to face — without threatening missile launches and fiery tweets — is a welcome step. We should not expect that reaching a denuclearization agreement will be quick and simple when the countries have lived in enmity for so long.
— A formal end to the war is foundational to move the process forward. The United States and North Korea are at an impasse over trading concessions like denuclearization for sanctions relief. Neither one is willing to make the first move without a guarantee from the other. A peace agreement provides the necessary assurance that North Korea seeks to surrender its nuclear weapons. Ending one of the world’s longest ongoing conflicts is not a concession. It is good for all parties involved.
— The United States should take its cues from South Korea. The leaders of South Korea and North Korea have agreed “there will be no more war and a new era of peace has begun on the Korean Peninsula.” The Koreas are shaping their own future and have a right to do so. The Korean people are longing for peace, and the United States should not stand in the way.
— Congress must demonstrate support for diplomacy and for the president’s stated intention to transform the relationship between the United States and North Korea. Declaring a formal end to the Korean War is essential for moving forward on other issues of concern that many in Congress raise repeatedly, such as the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Adding further sanctions or trying to close off diplomatic channels will not only harden North Korea’s position but remove any incentive for them to stay at the negotiating table.
Mennonite Central Committee suggests constituents ask their representatives in Congress to co-sponsor a resolution, H.R. 152, led by Rep. Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, that calls for a peace agreement to formally end the Korean War. Suggested text is available on the MCC Washington Office blog at washingtonmemo.org.
Diplomatic engagement is the only way to resolve the conflict between the United States and North Korea and move toward reconciliation with all people on the Korean Peninsula. Peace is the only way forward and is the best “deal” to be made.
Charissa Zehr is legislative associate for international affairs in the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office.