Pro-Diplomacy, Pro-Peace Principles to Guide US Presidential Campaigns on North Korea

The current moment: U.S.-North Korea relations have ranged from intense military tensions in 2017 to highly publicized summits in 2018. Looking forward to 2020 and beyond, the focus turns to the hard work of sustained diplomacy.

The first summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Un in Singapore resulted in a joint declaration that constructively called for new relations based on peace, the establishment of a peace regime, and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But actually achieving those goals will require specific, concrete next steps.

The recent false speculation about the death of Kim Jong Un illustrated clearly the severe lack of communication channels between our countries. This is a poor foundation upon which to build if we are to truly take steps toward the goals agreed upon in Singapore.

The next administration — whether it is the second Trump administration or a new Biden administration — will have to pick up where this one leaves off, and will have an urgent responsibility to make progress with North Korea. The failure to find diplomatic solutions could result in an escalation (intentional or accidental) that triggers a full-scale — potentially nuclear — war, endangering us all.

With this in mind, the undersigned organizations urge all presidential candidates to embrace the following principles as they formulate policy on North Korea:

Agree to step-by-step, reciprocal, verifiable actions to advance denuclearization and peace. “All or nothing” demands are a recipe for failure. In other words, the United States cannot realistically expect North Korea to unilaterally disarm before providing any sanctions relief, security guarantees, or other incentives. The two sides should build trust and work jointly toward shared goals.

Build confidence and reduce tensions. There are many interim steps that the United States and North Korea can take to shore up the potential for successful peace and denuclearization. These steps include, but are not limited to:

  • Opening liaison offices in Washington and Pyongyang and taking other steps toward normalized relations
  • Strengthening sanctions exemptions for humanitarian activities and removing travel restrictions to improve humanitarian access and people-to-people exchanges
  • Formalizing a return to North Korea’s nuclear and long-range missile testing moratorium
  • Refraining from actions that constrict or complicate diplomacy, such as deploying additional missile defenses, enacting sanctions that impede talks and confidence building, conducting certain military exercises, or engaging in hostile rhetoric
  • Continuing the repatriation of POW/MIA remains
  • Facilitating reunions between long-divided North Korean and Korean American families, and granting any necessary sanctions waivers for in-person or video reunions between separated South Korean and North Korean families.

End the Korean War. Even though active hostilities between the United States and North Korea ended 67 years ago with an Armistice Agreement, there was never a formal end to the war with a peace agreement. This continued state of war is not a mere technicality; it’s the root cause of militarism and tensions that must be resolved if there is to be real progress with North Korea. Formally ending the Korean War is the most effective trust-building mechanism available. It costs zero dollars, removes North Korea’s stated justification for nuclear weapons, and does not undermine the U.S.-South Korea alliance. This is an essential element of the next administration’s success on the Korean Peninsula.

Support South Korean leadership and engage regional actors. South Korean President Moon Jae-In, whose party was overwhelmingly re-elected in the 2020 legislative elections, used the mandate from the South Korean people who elected him in 2017 to conduct diplomacy that lays the foundation for new relations with North Korea. His meeting with Kim Jong Un in April 2018 produced the Panmunjom Declaration, which calls for, among other things, inter-Korean economic and civic projects, and replacing the Armistice Agreement with a peace agreement. The United States should stop impeding inter-Korean cooperation and should instead support the South Korean government in working toward these goals. Further, the United States should work multilaterally to coordinate and consult with other states in the region, including China, Japan, and Russia.

Make the negotiating table more inclusive. It is imperative that those impacted by current policies have a seat at the table. Including the views and recommendations of women, youth, and other members of civil society will improve the chances that a peace agreement will last longer and be more durable.

Reject the framing that diplomacy is a gift to North Korea. Too often, we see public figures suggest that talking to North Korea in some way disproportionately benefits Kim Jong Un. By definition, diplomacy involves talking to, meeting with, and making deals with friends and adversarial actors alike. In this way, talking and negotiating with North Korea should not be viewed differently than doing so with any other authoritarian power, which the United States does regularly. Additionally, ignoring North Korea equates to a refusal to address its growing nuclear capabilities and the acute risk of arms proliferation in the region. The status quo means more nuclear weapons, more human rights violations, more separated families, more suffering from sanctions, and the ongoing risk of nuclear war. It’s in everyone’s interest to change course with a realistic, concrete plan toward peace and denuclearization.

August 13, 2020 


American Friends Service Committee

Arms Control Association

Beyond the Bomb

Center for International Policy

Foreign Policy for America

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Just Foreign Policy

Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

Peace Action

Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Win Without War

Women Cross DMZ

Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND)


Originally published by Women Cross DMZ


Republished by The 21st Century



(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 11, 2018 US President Donald Trump (R) gestures as he meets with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un at the start of their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore. – Two years after a landmark summit between North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump, any hopes for improved ties have turned to feelings of “despair”, Pyongyang’s foreign minister said on June 12, 2020. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

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