A second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended on Feb. 28 with no deal on limiting North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
“We had to walk away from that,” the president said.
The two leaders split over both the scope and pace of dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Kim offered partial steps to curb his nuclear program in exchange for the complete lifting of sanctions by the United States. This was more than Trump was willing to give for only incremental progress.
I study the personal diplomacy of world leaders, which is when heads of state and government directly engage through letters, phone calls and face-to-face meetings.
Though the summit broke up with no deal, based on my knowledge of past U.S. presidential summits, I know that talks that end without an agreement can still be important in laying the foundation for future progress.
Diplomacy is a long and laborious process. And even with preparation, summits aren’t guaranteed to succeed.
Reagan and Gorbachev
REUTERS/Denis Paquin/File Photo
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland, to discuss arms control. During the talks, the two men proposed something radical: Rather than simply limit intermediate-range nuclear missiles, they would eliminate all nuclear weapons.
But they disagreed over Reagan’s plan for a missile defense system in space, known as the Strategic Defense Initiative, or Star Wars. Gorbachev wanted research on the program relegated to the laboratory. Reagan refused.
As the two men departed, their slumped shoulders and despondent expressions made their failure clear for all to see. The world’s print and television media captured the somber men as they went their separate ways.
But the situation wasn’t as dire as the post-summit body language suggested. Gorbachev actually came away from the meeting with optimism, believing that he and Reagan now had a firmer understanding of each other’s positions.
And though Reagan was initially disappointed, his advisers, including Secretary of State George Shultz, came to have a more positive outlook on the summit, helping Reagan see that the Soviets had moved closer to U.S. positions than ever before and truly wanted to make a deal.
It would take many more months of negotiations, but in December 1987 Reagan welcomed Gorbachev to Washington to sign an agreement eliminating both nation’s arsenals of intermediate-range nuclear weapons.