Moon-Trump summit better than expected: U.S. experts

July 6, 2017

By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, July 1 (Yonhap) — President Moon Jae-in produced better-than-expected results from his first summit talks with U.S. President Donald Trump as he succeeded in aligning their respective approaches to North Korea, U.S. experts said Saturday.

In Friday’s talks, Moon and Trump reaffirmed their commitment to fully implement existing sanctions and seek new measures to apply maximum pressure on the North. The two leaders also emphasized that the door to dialogue remains open under the right circumstances and Trump expressed support for Moon’s desire to restart inter-Korean dialogue.

On the other hand, the two sides displayed differences on trade, with Trump and other U.S. officials complaining about an increase in U.S. trade deficits with the South since the free trade agreement between the two countries went into effect, while strongly suggesting renegotiation.

“The two leaders succeeded in aligning their framework for addressing North Korea in broad terms and have affirmed that they will work together to increase pressure and engagement. But at the same time a gap emerged on trade reciprocity and burden sharing,” said Scott Snyder, chief Korea analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“The emergence of economic issues as primary area of difference is ironically an indicator of success in coordinating on security issues, but the trade gap will remain as a serious area of difference between the two sides,” he said in email comments send to Yonhap News Agency.

Ken Gause, a North Korea expert at CNA Corp., said that the summit “went far better than many expected.”

“I was pleased to see that Trump backed Moon’s lead on peninsula affairs, including supporting inter-Korean dialogue,” Gause said. “We shall see if this gives Moon more traction with Pyongyang, which still may need a greater commitment from Washington. Trump will continue to support if it shows progress. It also gives Moon the latitude he needs to deal with Beijing.”

He said it’s no surprise at all that Trump pushed for renegotiation of the FTA and greater defense cost-sharing.

“These are just as much domestic as foreign policy issues for the administration. If Trump can show he is getting a good deal from the Koreans on these issues, it gives him more latitude to support Moon’s approach to North Korea,” the expert said.

“So bottom line, the summit doesn’t appear to be the disaster many were predicting. Whether it has laid the foundation for a way forward, we will have to see,” he said. “I don’t expect Moon will get traction with Pyongyang unless he is willing to open the aperture for dialogue beyond denuclearization. Washington will have to support the expansion of the aperture for this to work.”

Alan Romberg, a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center, also said the results were better than expected.

“Of course not all the differences between Seoul and Washington were resolved over the course of this brief summit. It would have been totally unrealistic to expect they would be. But neither was there the kind of confrontation that many feared and even predicted,” he said.

Romberg said the two leaders adopted “compatible positions” that stressed the importance of strong measures against North Korean provocations, but they also agreed that the goal is to resolve the issue peacefully through dialogue.

He played down trade tensions.

“Trade issues have been festering for some time, so it is not a concern that only emerged when Donald Trump took office. Even if Hillary Clinton were sitting in the White House today, fixing the flaws in the KORUS FTA would be a priority issue,” he said. “What came out of this summit was a mutual commitment to foster ‘expanded and balanced trade’ and what they called ‘a truly fair and level playing field’ to create reciprocal benefits and fair treatment.”

“All in all, the fact that both leaders spoke in constructive terms about the Korean-American ties and signed onto a very positive statement directly or indirectly covering all aspects of the relationship is perhaps the most important outcome of the meetings, one that they can build upon over the coming months and years,” he said.


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