North and South Korea technically have been at war since 1950. A 1953 armistice brought a cease-fire, but the conflict can't actually end until a formal peace treaty has been signed.
Heading into the first one-on-one meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, both leaders could see an early diplomatic victory if they could agree on the historic move. It's something Trump said he "talked about" with the high-level North Korean official who visited the White House last week.
"It's got to be the longest war -- almost 70 years, right? And there is a possibility of something like that," Trump said then. "Can you believe that we're talking about the ending of the Korean War?"
It seems pretty straightforward, but according to two ex-CIA analysts who specialized in northeast Asia, agreeing to a peace as an early negotiating win could be "a disaster" for its down-the-road consequences.
"Concluding the peace treaty could end the legal justification for the United Nations Command in South Korea and create momentum in Seoul and Washington for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Korean peninsula," Sue Mi Terry and Bruce Klingner wrote in a joint op-ed in the Los Angeles Times today.
Observers and analysts have said that one of Kim's main goals for any negotiations about his nuclear program would be to get U.S. troops off the Korean peninsula. And he may see an opening with a president who was never that enthusiastic about troops being there in the first place. (As a presidential candidate in 2016, Trump said he would consider withdrawing U.S. troops from South Korea if the government didn't increase its financial contributions to U.S. troop support.)
The two ex-CIA analysts said they thought that ending the war should only happen if already the "North Korean nuclear threat is largely eliminated and the North has agreed and even begun to reduce the conventional threat."
It's important to note that Trump and Kim could not bilaterally decide to end the war. Any peace treaty would also require the sign-off from South Korea and China, which sent hundreds of thousands of troops into Korea during the 1950s fighting to support the North. Both have reportedly shown signs they're supportive of peace, however, even if that would cause some complicated legal issues in South Korea.
The ex-CIA anlysts' advice for Trump for his sit down with Kim Jong Un: "push hard enough to get real concessions -- but not so hard that the diplomatic process breaks down entirely."
"[W]hile formally ending the Korean War would be historic, it would be a disaster to give up this leverage prematurely," they said.
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