US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are set to meet for their second time Wednesday, feeding hopes and trepidations for the future of the Korean Peninsula.
With the two having agreed to seek complete denuclearization of the peninsula and build bilateral relations anew in the first summit on June 12 last year, the upcoming meeting is expected to focus on more specific issues.
For the US, these specifics center on Pyongyang offering up its nuclear and missile facilities such as the Yongbyon nuclear facility.
On Sunday, Trump took to Twitter to say that he will be heading to Hanoi where he and Kim “expect a continuation of the progress made at first Summit in Singapore. Denuclearization?”
While Trump’s Twitter optimism often raises more questions than answers, US officials in direct contact with the North have also indicated that the regime has put its nuclear facilities on the table.
Speaking at Stanford University last month, US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun said that the North is committed to dismantle and destroy all of North Korea’s plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities in return for corresponding measures.
At the time, Biegun also stated, “I am absolutely convinced, and more importantly the president of the United States is convinced, that it’s time to move past 70 years of war and hostility in the Korean Peninsula,” hinting at the possibility of the North making an offer significant enough to warrant the US consider the declaration of the end of the Korean War.
Declaring an end to the Korean War, however, may be a more complex issue than it may appear.
According to experts, while declaring the end of the war may be agreed to by Pyongyang and Washington, getting from there to a peace treaty will require China’s involvement. In addition, a US-North Korea agreement on a peace regime could be established by the Trump administration, but a peace treaty requires support from the legislature, where many doubt Trump’s engagement with the North.
Declaring the end of the Korean War is also likely to ignite political wrangling and protests from South Korea’s conservatives. Despite President Moon Jae-in repeatedly stressing that such a declaration is a political gesture, conservatives here claim that the North’s goal is to remove US Forces Korea from the peninsula. Despite both Biegun and Trump stating that the USFK is not on the table, conservative South Koreans have already staged rallies opposing the idea.
For North Korea, the success of the summit hinges on obtaining “corresponding measures” to denuclearization. Pyongyang has repeatedly called on the US to reciprocate denuclearization measures it has taken, and accused Seoul of failing to uphold inter-Korean agreements in urging progress in inter-Korean projects.
The Trump administration, however, had not given any indication that changes will be made to the sanctions until very recently.
“The sanctions are on in full. I haven’t taken sanctions off, as you know. I’d love to be able to, but in order to do that, we have to do something that’s meaningful on the other side,” Trump said on Wednesday.
On Sunday, Trump also reiterated his claims on the North’s economic future after denuclearization on Twitter.
“Chairman Kim realizes, perhaps better than anyone else, that without nuclear weapons, his country could fast become one of the great economic powers anywhere in the World. Because of its location and people (and him), it has more potential for rapid growth than any other nation!” Trump wrote.
The choice of Hanoi as the venue of the second summit is said to be part of Washington’s plans to show Kim a glimpse of economic development that could be in store for a North Korea free of nuclear weapons.
The inclusion of O Su-yong, a vice chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and director of the party’s economic affairs department, in Kim’s retinue to Hanoi has been interpreted in the South as evidence of the emphasis Pyongyang places on economic outcome of the summit.