What to expect from the second Kim-Trump summit?

By Cheng Xiaohe Source:Global Times Published: 2019/2/10 12:38:39

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT

Since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump concluded their first joint summit in Singapore last June, a second summit will be held in Hanoi, Vietnam on February 27 and 28. In his recent tweet, Trump said he looked forward to seeing Kim and a "North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong-un, will become a great Economic Powerhouse… North Korea will become a different kind of Rocket - an Economic one!"

In Singapore, both leaders announced declarations, agreeing to accomplish four basic interconnected goals. The June summit ended the first stage where both sides tried to explore each other's strategic intentions. 

Logically, the second Kim-Trump summit is expected to map out a concrete action plan over the issues that they agreed on from the first summit. Since actions have significant ramifications, both North Korea and the US were reluctant to make the first move, as both were determined to achieve a deal in their own terms. 

Since Pyongyang and Washington struggled to find common ground, this anticipated second summit has generated certain suspicion among analysts on their sincerity to break the impasse.  

Kim and Trump's decision to meet again demonstrates that both leaders have realized the necessity of sitting down and making a deal. Throughout the past year, Pyongyang has improved relations with China and South Korea. Unfortunately, such progress comes with its own limitations as international sanctions against North Korea have hindered economic cooperation between them and other countries, while also preventing them from focusing on economic development. 

To seek an early removal of the sanctions, North Korea has a built-in motivation to negotiate with the US as early as possible, to speed up the process and to let the negotiations produce the biggest results. For the US, the Trump administration has used significant diplomatic and military resources to cope with North Korea's nuclear issue. 

The US also has a strong desire to wrap up its entanglements with North Korea, so it can save resources for more important things. Trump personally spent significant time on North Korea's nuclear issue and stakes his reputation on the progress of the upcoming negotiations. He also wants to achieve something that enables him to gloss over his lack of diplomatic achievements in his two-year-long presidency.

Kim and Trump had real intentions to cut a deal, but the real challenge is how to turn them into actions acceptable for both sides. North Korea and the US drummed up their efforts to prepare for the summit. 

Trump and President Xi Jinping discussed North Korea the nuclear issue on the sidelines of the G-20 in Buenos Aires in November and agreed to work together to achieve complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, amidst unprecedented large-scale trade conflict. 

On January 8, Kim made a fourth trip to China to exchange views with Chinese top leaders over a potential second meeting with Trump. A few days later, Kim sent his envoy Kim Yong-chol to Washington to conduct a second round of high-level talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The three-day-long working-level negotiations between US Special Representative Stephen Biegun and Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui took place in Stockholm, Sweden, and more North Korea-US talks are expected before the second summit. 

The official attitude from both is upbeat. Upon receiving a reply letter from Trump, Kim said, "We will believe in President Trump's positive way of thinking, wait with patience and in good faith and, together with the U.S., advance step by step toward the goal to be reached by the two countries." 

Even though the US intelligence community is pessimistic about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, as Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence, claimed on January 29, they believed North Korea was "unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capability," but the very next day, Trump fought back, accusing Coats of being "extremely passive and naive" and insisting, "I look forward to seeing Kim Jong Un shortly. Progress being made-big difference!".

The conflicting messages from the Trump administration have puzzled many, yet we may assume that Kim and President Trump will not return home empty-handed. The second summit may produce at least one of the three-tiered results based on the principle of "pledge to pledge and action to action." 

North Korea may agree to stop developing, testing and exporting nuclear and ICBM weapons and dismantle the ICBMs if they have any in stock. The US may agree to give a sanction exemption to some Inter-Korean economic projects, such as South Korea's renewed tourism efforts to Mount Kumgang or re-opening the Kaesong Industrial complex. 

Both leaders may agree to clarify key concepts regarding the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and other related issues, and both sides could agree to adopt trust-building measures, such as reducing US military forces on the Korean Peninsula or setting up representative offices in their respective capitals with the intention to upgrade the offices to official embassies. 

North Korea may agree to submit a nuclear declaration to the IAEA or third countries), revealing their nuclear weapons, materials and processing facilities. Meanwhile, the US could agree to sign an end of war declaration  to replace the old armistice on the Korean Peninsula with a peace treaty. 

The US may agree to reassure it will not invade North Korea or seek a regime change in Pyongyang. Both sides could also agree to continue negotiations to secure nuclear verification and removing sanctions down the line.

Moreover, North Korea may agree to nuclear verification and dismantlement in exchange for removing sanctions within a clearly defined time frame. The US could also sweeten the deal by offering North Korea economic assistance.  

Certainly, the second summit is not a one-off business matter. Regardless of the results, more talks, and even more summits, between both nations are needed as they try to implement their agreements. The second summit is also not entirely a two-person game. 

Kim and Trump will continue to play important roles in promoting peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, but they need to consult the leaders of other stakeholders and seek their support and cooperation during the negotiation and implementation stages. 

The author is associate professor with the School of International Studies, Renmin University of China; a senior researcher with the Pangoal Institute. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn 

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