President Trump made good on at least one claim from this week’s State of the Union address, setting aside February 27 and 28 to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for a second summit. On Friday, Trump tweeted details of the meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, and added some fulsome praise. The president promised that he “fully understands how capable” Kim is, and predicted that North Korea “will become a great economic powerhouse.”
The two held their first meeting in Singapore last year, after which the White House claimed in a statement that “Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” No such plans have emerged.
North Korea has conducted no further nuclear and missile tests since the June summit, but has made no commitment to surrendering its nuclear arsenal. A December statement from the North’s official Korean Central News Agency pressed for the U.S. withdrawal or a reduced military presence in South Korea. “When we talk about the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, it means the removal of all sources of nuclear threat, not only from the South and North but also from areas neighboring the Korean peninsula,” the statement read. (The United States removed tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea in the 1990s.)
U.S. Special Representative Steve Biegun is said to have had working-level talks with North Korean counterpart Kim Hyok Choi in Pyongyang this week, in order to push for “a set of concrete deliverables” and a roadmap for denuclearization. Nicholas Burns, former undersecretary of state for political affairs at the State Department during the George W. Bush administration, suggested to Voice of America that a best-case scenario for the summit would include the U.S. obtaining an inventory of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and fissile material.
National intelligence director Dan Coats expressed less optimistic views during public congressional testimony on the U.S. intelligence community’s Worldwide Threat Assessment, noting that North Korea’s “leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival.” Coats said the U.S. government believes “North Korea will seek to retain its W.M.D. capability and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capability.” C.I.A. director Gina Haspel added that Pyongyang “is committed to developing a long-range nuclear-armed missile that would pose a direct threat to the United States.”
An exact agenda for Trump and Kim’s second summit has yet to be set. Trump has said that he and theNorth Korean leader “fell in love” during the last summit, so observers can expect more flattering flourishes in the lead-up to this month’s critical tête-à-tête.