Redefining success, President Donald Trump headed to his second meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, determined to tamp down expectations that he’ll achieve big strides toward denuclearization.
Trump is set to land in Vietnam late Tuesday and will have meetings with the host country’s president and prime minister Wednesday before sitting down later with Kim for a private dinner.
Trump will be joined at the dinner by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, the White House said Monday. Kim also will have two aides with him, and there will be translators for both sides. Trump and Kim, who arrived in Vietnam Tuesday, will have a series of official meetings Thursday.
Trump laid out ultimate goals for both the U.S. and Kim in an appearance before the nation’s governors Monday before boarding Air Force One to fly to Vietnam: “We want denuclearization, and I think he’ll have a country that will set a lot of records for speed in terms of an economy.”
Trump was the driving force behind this week’s summit, aiming to re-create the global spectacle of his first meeting with Kim last year.
In the leadup to the new summit, Trump proclaimed in no hurry for Pyongyang to prove it is abandoning its weapons.
“I’m not in a rush. I don’t want to rush anybody, I just don’t want testing. As long as there’s no testing, we’re happy,” Trump told the governors on Sunday.
“If I were not elected president, you would have been in a war with North Korea,” Trump said last week. “We now have a situation where the relationships are good — where there has been no nuclear testing, no missiles, no rockets.”
While Trump was airborne, Kim’s armored train was on the move in China, bound toward Vietnam’s capital. Vietnamese officials promised security at “the maximum level.” Reporters from 40 nations were expected to transmit the story to the world.
Kim inherited a nascent nuclear program from his father, and after years of accelerated effort and fighting through crippling sanctions, he built an arsenal that demonstrated the potential to rocket a thermonuclear weapon to the mainland United States. That is the fundamental reason Washington now sits at the negotiating table.
Kim, his world standing elevated after receiving an audience with a U.S. president, has yet to show a convincing sign that he is willing to deal away an arsenal that might provide a stronger guarantee of survival than whatever security assurance the United States could provide. The North Koreans have largely eschewed staff-level talks, pushing for discussions between Trump and Kim.
Though details of the summit remain closely held, the two leaders are expected to meet at some point one-on-one, joined only by translators.
The easing of tension between the two nations, Trump and his allies contend, stems from the U.S. president’s own unorthodox and unpredictable style of diplomacy. Often prizing personal rapport over long-held strategic interests, Trump has pointed to his budding relationship with the young and reclusive leader, frequently showing visitors to the Oval Office his flattering letters from Kim.
Four main goals emerged from the first Trump-Kim summit: establishing new relations between the nations, building a new peace on the entire Korean Peninsula, completing denuclearization of the peninsula and recovering U.S. POW/MIA remains from the Korean War.
Mark Chinoy, senior fellow at U.S.-China Institute at the University of Southern California, said that after generations of hostility, the convivial atmosphere of Singapore “can’t be discounted.” But Chinoy noted that Trump had agreed to North Korean’s “formulation of ‘denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,’ which Pyongyang has long made clear meant an end to the US security alliance with South Korea and an end to the U.S. nuclear umbrella intended to defend South Korea and Japan.”
After the last summit, Trump unilaterally suspended some military drills with South Korea, alarming some in Seoul and at the Pentagon. But he was insistent this week that he would not draw down U.S. troops from South Korea. And American officials, even as they hint at a relaxed timetable for Pyongyang to account for its full arsenal, have continued to publicly insist they would not favor easing sanctions on North Korea until denuclearization is complete.
A year ago, North Korea suspended its nuclear and long-range missile tests and said it dismantled its nuclear testing ground, but those measures were not perceived as meaningful reductions. Experts believe Kim, who is enjoying warmer relations with South Korea and the easing of pressure from Russia and China, will seek a U.S. commitment for improved bilateral relations and partial sanctions relief while trying to minimize any concessions on his nuclear facilities and weapons.