A Fading Chance for Improvement with North Korea

By Kenneth Dekleva

Dr. Kenneth Dekleva is a former physician-diplomat with the U.S. State Dept. and Professor of Psychiatry and Director, Psychiatry-Medicine Integration, UT Southwestern Medical Center and senior Fellow, George HW Bush Foundation for US-China Relations.  He is the author of two novels, The Negotiator's Cross and The Last ViolinistThe views expressed are his own and do not represent the views of the U.S. Government, State Dept., or UT Southwestern Medical Center.

During 2018 and part of 2019, the DPRK’s Chairman Kim Jong-un, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, and U.S. President Donald Trump collectively made diplomatic history in a series of summits, which gave profound hope to the notion that the Korean Peninsula might finally – after 70 years of war – achieve durable peace and denuclearization.  Who can forget their hopeful rhetoric, and the powerful symbols of President Trump and Chairman Kim stepping across the DMZ and their earlier meeting in Singapore, or of President Moon and Chairman Kim embracing – with their wives – on the summit of Mt. Paektu?  The images stirred hope across the Korean Peninsula and further afield, in neighboring Japan, China, and Russia, that a new generation of leaders might have finally unlocked the key to peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.

But 2019 has brought new challenges, with a slowdown in diplomatic engagement, further weapons testing by North Korea, and other domestic and foreign policy challenges threatening to derail the bold initiatives of Chairman Kim, President Moon, and President Trump.  With President Moon more than halfway through his 6-year term, and President Trump facing re-election in 2020, the window for further bold diplomacy may be narrowing.  Success will require boldness on the part of all three leaders, and an understanding that President Moon’s idealism, President Trump’s instincts and flair, and Chairman Kim’s ruthlessness may not suffice to achieve their respective diplomatic goals.  Now is the opportunity for the said three leaders to go beyond traditional, political approaches – each in their own way – and to demonstrate true boldness.

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