The United States and North Korea signed a symbolic agreement for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and lasting peace, Tuesday, but they must tackle sensitive military issues to move their relations forward.
These issues may include reducing the number of U.S. troops in South Korea and the withdrawal of a U.S. missile defense system deployed here.
Washington and Pyongyang did not elaborate on the details of their joint agreement after the historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
But as the two leaders have shared a message of satisfaction following the first-ever summit between the two countries, all eyes are on whether both sides can narrow their differences on the two crucial military issues.
Trump said the summit had gone “better than anybody could have expected” after having a one-on-one dialogue with Kim Jong-un. The young leader of the regime said, starting with the summit, the two countries will “make a new beginning” in their relations.
“The U.S. and North Korea commit to establish new U.S.-North Korea relations in accordance with the desire of peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity,” they said in a joint statement on the sidelines of the June 12 summit in Singapore.
Above all, Trump has for years expressed discontent over the maintenance costs the country pays for roughly 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea, as he believes the latter does not adequately bear the expenses.
Trump’s vision of the reduction of the U.S. troops here will likely be materialized if the two Koreas sign a peace treaty to end their technical state of war.
The ongoing state of war has been the core reason to justify the U.S. presence here.
But with the North showing a rare peace gesture to the South, Seoul and Pyongyang reached an agreement this April to declare an end to the war within the year.
As the U.S. and South Korea are in negotiations over renewing their five-year defense cost-sharing, chances are Trump will take advantage of the possibility of a peace treaty as a bargaining chip to cut the U.S. military presence.
THAAD withdrawal to put on dialogue table
The potential end of the war may also lead to the possible withdrawal of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea.
In recent years, the THAAD has been a bone of contention between Seoul and Beijing. The latter has expressed its regret over Seoul’s decision to deploy the THAAD, as it can monitor airborne objects in Chinese airspace.
The South Korean government countered the argument by saying the U.S. anti-missile system is aimed at monitoring Pyongyang’s possible military provocations.
But if the ongoing peace momentum on the Korean Peninsula is going on as planned, Washington is likely to play the THAAD withdrawal as a bargaining chip with Beijing to bring about the denuclearization of North Korea.
This is because China is a longtime ally of North Korea, and Trump knows China will play a crucial role toward his goal of achieving the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID) of the regime.
Nothing official over the agenda has been unveiled following the U.S.-North Korea summit. But with Trump saying he signed a comprehensive deal with his North Korean counterpart, expectations are that the THAAD agenda may also appear in upcoming dialogues between Washington and Pyongyang.
Under the joint agreement, both sides reached an agreement to continue the dialogue momentum by holding meetings to narrow their differences on such keen agendas.
“The U.S. and North Korea commit to hold follow-on negotiations, led by the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and a relevant high-level North Korean official, at the earliest possible date, to implement the outcomes of the summit,” the agreement said.