Trump to Hold Second Meeting With North Korea’s Kim Next Month

The U.S. president will press his counterpart for more tangible commitments to dismantle nuclear weapons.

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un  in Singapore on June 12, 2018. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12, 2018. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

The next summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is on.

On Friday, the White House announced a second summit between the two leaders to negotiate North Korea’s denuclearization would take place toward the end of February. Details on the precise date and location of the summit remain unclear.

“The President looks forward to meeting with Chairman Kim at a place to be announced at a later date,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement released Friday afternoon. The statement came after Kim dispatched one of his closest aides, former spy chief Kim Yong Chol, to Washington for meetings with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump on Friday.

The announcement breathes new life into negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear program, following hostile exchanges between Kim and Trump during the U.S. president’s first year in office and unprecedented negotiations in his second year.

Trump met Kim in Singapore for a historic summit in June 2018, but negotiations between top U.S. administration officials and their North Korean counterparts have sputtered and stalled since then.

Pompeo’s visits to North Korea last year were marked by tense meetings that yielded few results. And Stephen Biegun, the State Department’s special envoy for North Korean negotiations, has struggled to make headway with North Korean counterparts since he was first appointed in August 2018. North Korea has rejected multiple requests by the administration to have Biegun meet his counterpart, Choe Son Hui, the vice minister for foreign affairs.

With the White House’s announcement on Friday, that may change. Barring any last-minute diplomatic tussles between Kim Yong Chol and the White House as his visit to Washington wraps up, Biegun is expected to travel to Stockholm to meet Choe on Sunday, according to a South Korean official.

Experts and former officials say Kim Jong Un’s strategy in recent months has been to spurn top Trump deputies and hold out for direct negotiations with the president himself. Trump has touted his personal rapport with the North Korean diplomat as a positive sign he can strike a deal. This, coupled with South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s own rapprochement with Pyongyang, gives some experts hope, even as past North Korea talks have failed.

“What makes this set of negotiations particularly interesting is the weird mind melds you see happen between Trump and Kim, and Kim and Moon. Personalities have played such an outsized role in these negotiations,” said Kristine Lee of the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think tank. Lee believes the diplomatic window for negotiations won’t stay open forever, however, and said the next summit could be a make-or-break moment for Trump’s aspirations to hash out a viable deal on denuclearizing North Korea.

Former U.S. officials and South Korean officials said Hanoi or Danang, Vietnam, are the likeliest venues for the next summit.

Kim Yong Chol, the North Korean envoy, landed in Washington on Thursday evening and spent the night there. His visit was historic in and of itself: Kim’s stay in the Dupont Circle Hotel marks the first time in nearly two decades, and one of the only times in history, a top North Korea official has stayed overnight in Washington.

Pompeo met Kim at the hotel Friday morning, before the envoy made the short trip to the White House to meet with Trump.

At the second summit, Trump will likely push North Korea for tangible commitments to dismantle its nuclear program. Experts widely panned the joint declaration Trump and Kim signed at the Singapore summit, which lacked many details and left the definition of “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” open to interpretation—one of the issues that came back to haunt Pompeo in follow-on talks in North Korea.

Meanwhile, North Korea has quietly continued building up its ballistic missile bases and boasted of testing “ultramodern tactical weapons”—stark reminders that negotiations with Kim aren’t as straightforward or simple as Trump may have initially hoped.

“While the president has started a promising dialogue with Chairman Kim, we still await concrete steps by North Korea to dismantle the nuclear weapons that threaten our people and our allies in the region,” said U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in a speech at the State Department on Wednesday.

But top administration officials have also pointed to tangible signs of progress. Since negotiations began, North Korea has ceased launching missile tests near Japan and South Korea, released several U.S. citizens detained in North Korea, and delivered the remains of U.S. military personnel from the Korean War back to the United States.

In recent weeks, the U.S. side has telegraphed its willingness to make small concessions to Pyongyang, in an apparent effort to build up goodwill ahead of the second summit: The State Department told international and humanitarian aid organizations earlier this month it would ease restrictions on humanitarian supplies destined for North Korea, as Foreign Policy reported.

Despite the buzz of a second summit, experts and foreign officials remain cautious over what Trump can actually achieve. “The problem is having another summit itself is not enough,” said one South Korean official. “The U.S. has the burden to bear fruit in the second summit.”

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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