US President Donald Trump has said there is a “substantial chance” his upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un may not “work out.” President Trump is currently scheduled to meet Kim in a historic summit in Singapore on June 12th.
If the summit takes place, it will be the first official meeting between a sitting US President and a North Korean leader.
The history of North Korea began in 1945, when colonial Japan withdrew from the peninsula and Korea was divided into two halves along the 38th parallel. The relationship between the US and North Korea has always been fractious. During the war between North and South Korea in 1950, US forces successfully intervened on behalf of South Korea. To this day, 28,500 American soldiers are stationed in South Korea as part of United States Forces Korea (USFK). Read more on the history of the peninsula here.
The North Korean nuclear program has been a source of concern for the US and the international community for decades. In 1994, in the US-North Korean Agreed Framework, North Korea agreed to halt its nuclear program in return for proliferation-resistant nuclear power. Pyongyang allowed inspections at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, and a cooling tower used to produce plutonium was destroyed. However, the agreement collapsed in 2002 and Pyongyang reactivated the complex at Yongbyon.
In 2006, after North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, the UN Security Council passed harsh economic sanctions on the region. In 2017, it conducted over 20 missile test launches, conducted its sixth nuclear test, and test launched at least 2 intercontinental ballistic missiles. US President Trump has taken an aggressive stance while countering North Korea. Both Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump were locked in an extended war of words in 2017. Trump said that North Korea “will be met with fire and the fury like the world has never seen.” North Korea responded by announcing that plans were underway for it to strike Guam, a US territory.
However, since the beginning of 2018, global tensions with the isolated state began to ease. Pyongyang has indicated that it is willing to re-establish diplomatic ties with the outside world. On April 27th, North and South Korean leaders Kim Jong-Un and Moon Jae-In held a historic summit, the first in over a decade. The two nations announced that they have agreed to end the 60-year Korean War and signed the Panmunjom Declaration which agreed to denuclearise North Korea. Read more on the meeting here.
US President Trump has said that the June 12th summit with Kim Jong-Un may not take place as scheduled. "We'll see what happens," Trump told journalists. "If it doesn't happen, maybe it'll happen later. Maybe it'll happen at a different time. But we are talking." White House officials have said that preparations for the talks are continuing. Speaking from the oval office, Trump also accused China of interfering in the talks, referring to a recent meeting between Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping. "I think things changed after that meeting and I can't say I'm happy about it," Trump said.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in also visited President Trump, reportedly to coordinate US-South Korea strategy on Kim. During this meeting, the South Korean leader reportedly reassured Trump that Kim wanted to hold the summit. South Korean officials have said that Moon’s trip served as a “bridge” between Washington and Pyongyang. Officials in Washington have reportedly grown increasingly sceptical of Kim’s intentions. Moon noted that there would be no “positive developments in history” if people had assumed “that because it all failed in the past, it will fail again.” Seoul’s national security adviser Chung Eui-yong told reporters that there was a “99.9% chance that the talks would proceed as scheduled.”
Experts noted that Trump’s statements may be in response to Pyongyang’s return to a more aggressive rhetoric earlier this month. Bonnie Glaser, from Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that Trump didn't "want to look like he wants this summit more than Kim does". "It's a smart move to say that he is willing to postpone. But to be credible, the president really has to be willing to walk away and I'm not sure he is," Glaser told Reuters.
In May, North Korea cancelled a meeting with South Korean officials after joint military drills between South Korea and US. Days later, North Korean vice foreign minister Kim Kye-Gwan reacted to comments by US National Security Advisor John Bolton, who had said that the United States is looking at a 2004 “Libya model” to denuclearise North Korea. Kim Kye-Gwan said that Pyongyang would “no longer be interested” in dialogue if the US was trying to push for “unilateral nuclear abandonment.” President Trump was quick to assure Kim Jong-Un that he would have ample “protections” if he made the deal and would not meet the same fate as Gaddafi.
Some experts believe that it would be advisable not to rush into the June 12th summit. They have expressed fear that if the US goes into the summit without adequate preparation, the summit could fail and result in an increased chance of conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
Additionally, earlier this week, South Korean spokesperson Yoon Young-chan said that the cancelled talks between the North and South would likely resume after the completion of the joint US-South Korea exercises. Despite the shift back towards a more aggressive rhetoric, Pyongyang has maintained that it will dismantle the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, which comprises of a number of buildings and tunnels dug below the nearby Mount Mantap. This week, journalists from the UK, US, Russia, China, and South Korea were cleared to observe the collapse of the tunnels and other facilities to show that work was being conducted in a "transparent manner". North Korea has not made any promises to destroy its existing nuclear weapons.
Our assessment is that the upcoming summit is important to both leaders. For Kim Jong-Un, a meeting with the American President would provide his regime with legitimacy. As stated previously, Pyongyang is in pursuit of being recognised as a responsible stakeholder in the comity of nations. Meanwhile, if the summit is successful, President Trump will have a distinctive accomplishment to mark his tenure as President. We believe that both leaders want to go into the talks from a position of strength. However, Pyongyang may not be likely to agree to the "comprehensive, verifiable and irreversible" nuclear disarmament that the US is pushing for, if it feels like it is the only side making concessions.