Kim-Trump summit first step on long road to denuclearisation

US president keen to showcase deal-making skills in Singapore next week

A poster outside a restaurant, Harmony Nasi Lemak, in Singapore, promotes a special Trump Kim-Chi dish on  its menu. Photograph: Ore Huiying/Getty Images

A poster outside a restaurant, Harmony Nasi Lemak, in Singapore, promotes a special Trump Kim-Chi dish on its menu. Photograph: Ore Huiying/Getty Images

 

Next week’s Singapore summit between Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will be the first step in a long process, with the US president confident he can use his deal-making skills to strike an agreement.

This will be the first face-to-face meeting between the two. It’s less than a year since the two leaders were exchanging insults, with both boasting about the size of their nuclear buttons.

The US goal is for the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the North Korean nuclear programme and Trump will be keen to strike up a personal relationship with Kim to see if he can make such a deal happen.

It will the first chance to see if the two leaders have similar readings of the issues involved. It is possible that Kim wants to retain the country’s core nuclear weapons capability, while convincing the US to remove sanctions.

The American leader will arrive in Singapore confident in his skills as a deal-maker. He has said this kind of negotiation is “about attitude. It’s about willingness to get things done”, and he has hinted that he might invite Kim to the White House if things go well.

Meanwhile, Kim, who is expected to arrive in Singapore on Sunday, two days ahead of the talks, will take heart from the success of two rounds of inter-Korean talks with South Korean president Moon Jae-in.

Security guarantees

Kim will be seeking security guarantees to make sure his country does not suffer the same fate as Libya and Iraq, in exchange for any concessions on the nuclear programme, and greater integration into the international community.

Paul Haenle, a former White House National Security Council official who now directs the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy in Beijing, expects a vague agreement on denuclearisation and some commitment to begin a process toward concluding denuclearisation.

“In order to differentiate from previous negotiations so Trump can claim a victory, the agreement may be broadened to include wording on biological/chemical weapons and missiles,” said Haenle.

Trump has already said the summit is not a “one-meeting deal” but there is a chance of some kind of road map for agreement emerging from the talks.

“It is difficult to see a scenario where Kim agrees to give up his nuclear weapons programme – something he and his father and grandfather before him said is critical to the regime’s survival,” said Haenle.

Technically at war

One area where they could make progress is in signing a formal peace agreement to end the Korean War (1950-1953), which ended in an armistice, leaving the two sides technically at war.

This would be an important step in helping North Korea normalise its relations with the US. Any peace treaty would have to be signed by China too, as the North’s ally in the conflict.

Kim has made two trips to Beijing in the past few weeks, and while the Chinese government shares the goal of resolving tensions and avoiding conflict, it also wants to keep its leverage with North Korea.

China does not want regime change as it does not want the possibility of a US-friendly North Korea on its doorstep.

As United Nations sanctions continue to put pressure on its economy, North Korea will also be looking for some economic relief. Previous agreements on the nuclear programme, none of which lasted very long, involved some kind of economic reward in exchange for concessions on denuclearisation.

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