US President Donald Trump has said he will hold a second nuclear summit with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un in Vietnam on 27-28 February. The two leaders face a number of challenges as they prepare for the meeting:
1: Getting past the pageantry – Both Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un made the most of the press extravaganza surrounding their choreographed reconciliation at the Singapore summit in June 2018. But the vaguely worded statement it produced hasn’t resulted in any concrete action towards the US goal of dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons, and Pyongyang is frustrated by Washington’s refusal to ease sanctions. So the pressure’s on for them to come up with something tangible.
2: Getting on the same page – At the Singapore summit, the US and North Korea agreed to the “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula”. But they didn’t say what that meant, which gets to the heart of whether a deal is even possible. But last week the State Department’s North Korea envoy Stephen Biegun at least acknowledged the disconnect over disarmament goals, and said coming to an agreement with the North Koreans would have to happen “over time”.
3: Getting action on denuclearization – Pyongyang has offered to destroy all its facilities for making nuclear bomb fuel, according to Mr Biegun, if the Trump administration takes “corresponding measures”. The Americans seem to be softening their demands for significant denuclearization steps upfront, apparently adopting more of the action-for-action approach advocated by Mr Kim.
4: Getting realistic? – Virtually anyone in Washington who knows anything about North Korea thinks that Kim Jong-un won’t abandon his nuclear weapons programme. It’s too important a deterrent, director of national intelligence Dan Coats told a Senate committee last week. He said the country’s leaders “ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival”, especially against a US attempt to overthrow it. Some former Pentagon officials go so far as to argue that it would make more sense to pursue dialogue on arms control, rather than arms elimination.