After months prepping for the big moment, President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are ready to sit down together in Singapore.
The pair will meet for a summit that’s been billed as historic, though questions remain as to whether the results of the talks will mark a new chapter in relations between the United States and North Korea — or be relegated to a footnote in the long-running history of Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
Trump said Monday that there was “excitement in the air” ahead of the meeting, though observers were anxious to see the mood after a one-on-one with Kim Tuesday morning (9 p.m. Monday ET) and a bilateral meeting between U.S. and North Korean officials.
The watchword leading up to the summit has been “denuclearization,” which Kim had committed to in statements since the meeting was offered and accepted in March.
His nuclear program sparked a war of words with Trump last year after it was believed to have gained the capability to hit the mainland U.S., though Kim has recently said he shut down any further tests as a gesture of goodwill.
Previous offers of denuclearization from North Korea have hinged on concessions from the U.S., such as the removal of the large American military presence from South Korea.
The statement offered after Tuesday’s meeting will likely mention denuclearization, though it is unclear whether it will only be mentioned as a goal or whether it will appear with more concrete conditions.
Any deal reached between the U.S. and North Korea is expected to include stronger “security assurances” from Trump that would go beyond a previous agreement not to attack the country.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that the new, “unique” security assurances would show the isolated regime that giving up its weapons “is not something that ends badly for them.”
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While there are hopes that concrete details will emerge from the summit, Trump and Pompeo have said that the new goal is making sure talks continue.
“I think the minimum would be a relationship. We’d start at least a dialogue,” the President told reporters at the G7 summit in Canada.
Another historic meeting, between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, has already promised renewed diplomatic engagement on the peninsula.
Talks about officially ending the neighbors’ long-running war, which ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty more than six decades ago, are slated to be held later this year.
Trump’s summit with Kim will address the most contentious part of those talks, to include the U.S. and possibly China, and could set the table for progress despite a walking back of expectations.
The shift from a focus on denuclearization to keeping the discussions going comes after the summit was briefly called off by the President in late May.
Other nuclear deals
The summit cancellation came after North Korea responded angrily to Vice President Mike Pence’s statement that the country could “end like the Libyan model” if it does not make a deal.
Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed during a Western invention in 2011 after he had previously given up his country’s nuclear deal in the early 2000s.
North Korea blasted Pence’s remarks as “ignorant and stupid,” sparking the cancellation of the planned Trump-Kim meeting.
Despite the summit now being back on, that deal and others by countries that have been part of international nuclear deals — such as Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union, and Iran in 2015 — will also loom large over the discussions.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said Monday that it had “great pessimism” toward U.S. negotiations after Trump decided to back out of a U.S.-Iran deal — reached in 2015 under then-President Obama — that offered sanctions relief for Iran agreeing to curb its nuclear program.
The spokesman said that North Korea should deal with Trump with “awareness” because of the end of its deal, also negotiated with China, Russia and U.S. allies in Europe.
Reaction from U.S. allies will also be watched closely as Trump continues to alienate traditional American partners through trade tariffs.
Trump refused to sign a joint communique with other G7 countries at that summit this weekend, with his aides saying that he felt Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had undercut him with trade criticism before his Kim meeting.
European allies in NATO — which Trump also blasted by tweet on Sunday — have criticized the President’s decision to pull out of the Iran deal, and it is unclear how recent tensions may impact their support for whatever outcome the Singapore summit has.
Observers will also watch the reaction of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, a traditional ally whom Kim met multiple times ahead of the Trump summit.
China has played a role in North Korea’s isolation after agreeing to international sanctions put in force by the United Nations, and has also been seen as keen to keep itself as the major diplomatic force influencing Pyongyang.
Criticism and praise
Trump’s lashing out at the European Union and Trudeau — who Trump’s advisers said had stabbed him in the back — comes after he has repeatedly praised Kim.
Though Trump has previously called Kim “little rocket man” and “short and fat,” POTUS has also said that Kim is a “very smart cookie” and “very honorable.”
American leaders have traditionally criticized North Korean leaders for their totalitarian rule over their country and violent suppression of dissent.
It is not known whether Trump will make any mention of Pyongyang’s appalling human rights record or only lavish Kim with praise, something that critics have said plays into the leader’s goal of using the summit to boost his own international legitimacy.
Source: San Diego Union-Tribune