WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un must agree on a road map to denuclearization at their second summit to avoid the vague agreement that came out of their initial meeting, experts said.
After months of stalled negotiations that began when North Korea abruptly canceled a planned meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in November, the White House announced earlier in January that a second summit between Trump and Kim will take place by the end of February. Sources have told VOA Korea on background that the summit will take place in Vietnam.
The announcement of the second summit came after Gen. Kim Yong Chol, North Korea’s chief negotiator on nuclear talks, visited the White House Jan. 18 and delivered a letter from Kim to Trump, who sent a response back to Kim.
Officials from the United States, North Korea and South Korea met in Sweden over the weekend of Jan. 19 to prepare for the summit, the first working-level talks since the impasse.
Experts said the second summit needs to result in a more significant and specific outcome on denuclearization than what came out of the first meeting between Trump and Kim.
The first summit held in Singapore in June was widely criticized for vague results, particularly the lack of a meaningful agreement on denuclearization of North Korea
Dennis Wilder, the National Security Council’s former senior director for East Asia affairs during the George W. Bush administration said, “There needs to be a much more substantial statement than the one that occurred at the first summit.”
Christopher Hill, a chief negotiator with North Korea during the George W. Bush administration, said, “I think they need to look for some specificity on what North Korea is prepared to do.”
Gary Samore, White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction in the Obama administration, is wary, however, that there is not enough time to draw up a comprehensive denuclearization deal by the time of the second summit. Agreements are usually drawn up at working-level meetings before leaders meet.
“There is not enough time to negotiate such a complex arrangement, and the U.S. and (North Korea) are too far apart on too many fundamental issues,” said Samore. “Trump and Kim could agree at the summit on a process of negotiations, such as U.S.-North Korea negotiations on denuclearization and bilateral relations.”
Shortly after Washington announced the second summit, concerns emerged in South Korea’s capital city of Seoul that Trump might agree only to a possible North Korean offer to dismantle and transfer its ICBM off its territory to reduce North Korean capability to target the U.S. with ICBMs carrying nuclear weapons.
Bruce Klingner, former CIA deputy division chief for Korea and current senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said Trump should not commit to “an ICBM-only’ agreement.”
But Samore thinks it is possible that Trump might agree to such a proposal by Kim as “‘down payment’ for complete denuclearization.” He added, “The question is how much sanctions relief Trump is willing to offer in exchange for such a partial step.”
The concerns increased when the U.S. and South Korea failed to reach a Special Measures Agreement (SMA) to fund U.S. troops in South Korea and to draw up cost-sharing plans with Seoul after the agreement expired on Dec. 31.
“It would be very unfortunate if this early in the process there was a discussion of the withdrawal of American forces from South Korea,” said Wilder. “I do not believe that should be on the table at this point. It’s far too premature. The situation on the Korean Peninsula is not stable enough yet, in my view, to make that decision.”
Hill does not think Trump would agree to the withdrawal, but if he does, he said, “It would create a huge problem in the U.S. I think that is worrisome.”
Ken Gause, director of the International Affairs Group at the Center for Naval Analyses, said although the withdrawal will be “an unforced error on our part that would wreck the alliance and create a potential crisis,” the possibility that “Trump might put a troop drawdown on the table” cannot be discounted.
North Korea’s state media KCNA said last week that Kim expressed “great satisfaction” over the results of talks between the two countries while speaking highly of Trump, and ordered preparations for the summit.
In an interview with The Washington Times published on Friday, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said North Korea needs to make “a significant sign of a strategic decision to give up nuclear weapons” in order for Trump to take the sanctions off.
U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats expressed doubts about North Korea’s willingness to give up its nuclear weapons in his testimony at a Senate hearing Tuesday on global security threats.
“We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD (weapons of mass destruction) capabilities, and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival,” Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee.