GENEVA (Reuters) - Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, who negotiated with North Korea a generation ago, is looking for three signals that the summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been a success, he told Reuters.
The first thing to look out for is whether the two hit it off in person.
“I could envision a situation where both leaders leave in a fit of anger, so it needs to end on a cordial note,” he said.
“Secondly it needs to agree on some statements of principle on heading towards a nuclear-free (Korean) peninsula, and third it needs to have started the process: actual steps in that direction, agreeing on some first steps.”
Trump has said he will know in the first minute whether or not he can get a deal with Kim.
“I’m hopeful that he’s right,” said Perry, who negotiated with North Korea during Bill Clinton’s presidency in the 1990s.
The Clinton-era negotiations produced a deal under which Kim’s father Kim Jong-il agreed to give up a nuclear programme in return for energy supplied from abroad.
The deal collapsed under Clinton’s successor George W. Bush, who concluded that Pyongyang was cheating. Bush tried to establish a new agreement, but never succeeded, and North Korea has since openly pursued nuclear weapons.
“I don’t think it’s a bad idea to start off with big concepts first and then work it down to the details,” said Perry. “If it results in an agreement on getting a process started that leads to complete denuclearisation, that is a major accomplishment.”
The details are in fact too complex for Trump and Kim to get into, he said, and ideally their meeting would give way to meetings of officials on the technical aspects, a process that would take “several years” in all.
Perry was speaking on the sidelines of the Luxembourg Forum nuclear conference in Geneva. In his conference speech, he said North Korean leaders were driven by their desire to stay in power.
“They are despotic, they are ruthless, they are cruel to their own people, but they are not crazy,” he said.
When Perry negotiated with the North Koreans, they publicly sought economic benefits for their fragile economy. But what really got their attention was normalisation of diplomatic relations with the United States and ending the Korean war.
Trump would be very wise to indicate willingness to offer something in that direction, Perry said, but concessions should be made gradually, starting with a reversible step to establish a U.S. diplomatic presence working in another country’s embassy.
“We can set it up and if it doesn’t work out, if we don’t get the benefits of that, we can pull back again. If it does work out we can work out then we can escalate that to eventually lead to an embassy in Pyongyang.”
North Korea should be asked to rejoin the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which it left in 1994, and should be obliged to join the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, even though the United States is not itself a member, he said.
Reporting by Tom Miles