The second US-North Korea summit is looming large.
President Moon Jae-in said in the opening statement at his summit with US President Donald Trump on Monday, “North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he wants to meet with US President Donald Trump early to conclude the denuclearization process as soon as possible.”
Then, Trump said he would meet with Kim for a second time “in the not too distant future” and that the date for his second meeting with Kim would be announced soon.
Some experts predict the second Trump-Kim summit will take place in October, suggesting that Trump may want to make a show of his diplomatic achievements concerning North Korea ahead of the US midterm elections on Nov. 6.
Though the contents of the personal letter from Kim that Moon reportedly delivered to Trump remain undisclosed, they likely concern the actions Pyongyang will take to denuclearize and the corresponding measures it wants Washington to take.
Little is known of what Moon and Trump discussed either. Right now, it is difficult to look at North Korea’s demands and those of the US and try to connect the dots.
Cheong Wa Dae said Moon and Trump had had an in-depth discussion on the matter of formally declaring the conclusion of the Korean War. North Korea has demanded such a declaration, but so far has offered no response to the US demand that it submit a list of its nuclear weapons, stalling its negotiations with the US. Moon and Trump very likely discussed the declaration, which is probably the corresponding measure that North Korea demands from the US as a condition for the permanent shutdown of a nuclear facility in Yongbyon.
Washington has placed top priority on denuclearization, warning that it will make no concessions without it, while North Korea has demanded that the US take corresponding steps each time it takes any action. The two countries may be conducting under-the-table negotiations, but in view of what has been disclosed to the news media, their visions for denuclearization seem to be very much at odds.
The main objective of the second US-North Korea summit, if it takes place, will be to ensure that the North promises substantive steps toward denuclearization.
Generally, denuclearization progresses from declaration to inspection to destruction, but now the process seems to be moving backward: The North destroys the facilities it selects, allows experts to inspect the destroyed facilities, and only then promises to declare its nuclear inventory in return for the lifting of sanctions.
That won’t do. North Korea can be considered to have denuclearized completely only once it takes the correct steps in the correct order.
Moon revived the chances for another summit between the US and North Korea, but many problems remain.
What the North has done so far is to declare a nuclear freeze, not substantial measures such as the elimination of nuclear warheads and materials. The communist state has a history of breaking promises regarding the abandonment of its nuclear program. Caution is warranted, therefore, in drawing up corresponding measures.
It is important to keep the North in the orbit of denuclearization. Be that as it may be, it is risky for Trump to rush into a summit with Kim for political reasons, such as concern about the upcoming midterm elections.
Some US administration officials reportedly are concerned about the possibility that their country might concede too much, even if the North has not yet taken concrete and verifiable steps to denuclearize.
Obviously, dialogue offers an important chance to denuclearize the North, and Washington must do its best to maintain dialogue on every possible level, but talks must take place only after sufficient preparation.
Before seeking its second summit with North Korea, the US must make efforts at the working level to guarantee that the summit will produce substantial progress on denuclearization. Thorough preparation is required to handle things in the right order. In this light, it is worth considering whether to offer a declaration of the official end of the war in exchange for a package including the detailed nuclear weapons inventory and the permanent closing of the Yongbyon facility.