Another Step Forward?: Prospects for the Second Trump-Kim Summit

On January 18, the White House announced that President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme leader Kim Jong-un are to meet in a second summit by the end of February. Although the plan is being finalized, it is known that the summit will be held in Vietnam’s coastal city of Da Nang. The announcement follows after White House discussions with Kim Yong Chol, North Korea’s lead negotiator in the peace talks.

The announcement of the summit comes shortly after the announcement of the Pentagon’s new Missile Defense Review, which states that North Korea remains an “extraordinary threat” to the United States despite the president’s assurance that the Singapore summit and talks between North and South Korea resulted in a diminished threat.

“While a possible new avenue to peace now exists with North Korea, it continues to pose an extraordinary threat and the United States must remain vigilant,” states the Pentagon in the assessment. “Over the past decade, it has invested considerable resources in its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and undertaken extensive nuclear and missile testing in order to realize the capability to threaten the US homeland with missile attack. As a result, North Korea has neared the time when it could credibly do so.”

Despite dismantling both its nuclear and missile engine testing facilities, North Korea did test out a “high tech” tactical weapon in November 2018. However, the threat lies in what is unknown, as officials are unsure of how many nuclear facilities remain in the program’s network of missile bases.

According to North Korea’s KCNA new agency, Kim Jong-un stated that although he trusted Trump’s step with a second summit, he warned that his country’s administration could seek a “new path” if American sanctions continued. If concessions on both sides are reached , there is the potential of many different steps towards peace on the peninsula and strengthening relations between North Korean and United States taking place. One includes the possibility of North Korea agreeing to verifying aspects of its denuclearization process before it demolishes its Yongbyon nuclear facilities. For the United States, there is the potential for opening a liaison office in Pyongyang and expanding economic opportunities, such as restarting the Kaesong industrial zone.  This second meeting follows their historic first summit in Singapore in June 2018, which resulted in both countries promising on movements towards complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. However, further agreements were vague and any progress made in Singapore appear to have fallen off.

Under the auspices of a growing North Korean missile program, the second Trump-Kim summit threatens to define West-East relations for decades.

But North Korea and the United States are not alone in these negotiations. China and South Korea both have been key players as talks have progressed-and stalled. Leading up to the announcement of a second summit, Chinese and South Korean officials called for concessions from both countries. Although it has its own goals from talks with Kim Jong-un, including complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and peace by officially ending the Korean War, South Korea has been integral to discussions between Kim and Trump. South Korea South Korean President Moon Jae-in supports his country’s cooperation with the international community in order to ease sanctions in an attempt to promote better inter-Korean relations. The Moon administration hopes that by easing sanctions, there will be more opportunity for inter-Korean ventures for business and tourism expansion and cultural exchange. However, more “bold steps” of action towards denuclearization are needed from North Korea in order to earn more concessions from the United States.

“I think North Korea knows that they clearly have to denuclearize for the easing of international sanctions, and the U.S. also understands that there needs to be corresponding action to expedite the North’s denuclearization,” President Moon stated at a press conference at the Blue House, South Korea’s executive office and Moon’s official residence.

Despite United Nations Security Council resolutions, North Korea has been developing nuclear and missile programs, calling for the United States to not only lift sanctions, but to also bring an official end to the Korean War, which ended by armistice in 1953. This appears to be a step backwards compared to North Korea’s initial steps towards denuclearization, most significantly dismantling its key missile engine facility and only known nuclear weapons testing site in mid-2018.

On the other side, China and President Xi Jinping are North Korea’s one ally. In 2018, Kim made three trips to Beijing in order to meet with President Xi. Officials suspect Kim renewed resolve to meet with President Trump during his January meeting with Xi. North Korea’s state new agency KCNA stated that the two leaders discussed the state of the Korean peninsula and prospects for denuclearization. Although viewing North Korea’s actions as “positive measures…to maintain peace and stability” and denuclearization, the recent stalling in talks forced Xi to call for North Korea and the United States to “meet each other halfway”.

Many officials emphasize the positive effects this summit will have on further diplomatic talks and the state of the international community. The second summit is a major step towards reinforcing talks between the two countries. Relations between the United States and South Korea grew tense in late 2018, despite the relatively positive atmosphere of the first summit in Singapore. Since Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s November meeting with senior official Kim Jong Chol was cancelled, many hope this summit will take a step forward once more after seemingly two steps back.

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