Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un walked away from their Hanoi summit without a deal. Both sides now must make sure this missed opportunity does not set off a new downward spiral in U.S.-North Korea relations.
Each side says the other asked for too much. Whatever the truth, wide gaps clearly still separate the two sides. The United States is asking for more nuclear dismantlement than North Korea is ready for. Pyongyang seeks to restore far more access to international trade than Washington is ready to permit.
The good news is that both sides say they will keep working, although they have not set a timeline. Both sides also seem ready to continue gestures of restraint, with North Korea foregoing nuclear or long-range missile tests, and the United States and South Korea pausing large-scale military exercises.
The summit’s failure may have underscored just how fragile and difficult diplomacy will be. But as Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate Democratic Whip, said, diplomacy remains the only acceptable path forward. Coming up short in diplomacy this time only increases the urgency for a new push ahead.
After all, North Korea’s centrifuges continue to make bomb fuel, and North Korea’s missile engineers keep working. Militaries on both sides of the border are still daily risking an accident or misunderstanding that sparks exactly the kind of crisis between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan recently that causes so much concern.
Economic sanctions aiming to coerce the Kim government into nuclear capitulation keep threatening the health and food security of innocent North Koreans, and yet there remains no reason to think those sanctions will ever fundamentally change North Korea’s nuclear and missile calculus.
The South Korean government and people keep yearning for reduced tensions and greater progress towards peace and reconciliation. They still refuse to tolerate a war of choice against North Korea.
And any war would still be a strategic, economic, humanitarian, and moral disaster.
The United States should therefore press forward with South Korea, using serious, diligent diplomacy to build trust, security, and a lasting peace on the Korean peninsula. Our faith guides us to always seek the solutions of peace—regardless of whether the answers to the dilemmas we face have yet come into view. Way will open on the Korean peninsula, if our country has the courage to keep working to find it.