President Donald Trump left for Singapore Saturday where he will prepare to hold a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday, according to the White House.
During the meeting, the two leaders are expected to discuss ways to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula and whether North Korea is willing to give up its nuclear weapons program.
But in the lead-up to the historic summit, several analysts have pointed out that the Trump administration doesn’t have a clear plan for how it will approach the discussions, and that both sides have very different ideas about what “denuclearization” means. In fact, the president has said that he doesn’t need to gear up for the summit.
“I don’t think I have to prepare very much,” Trump said bluntly during a press conference Thursday. “It’s about attitude, it’s about willingness to get things done.”
Still, some experts say it’s important that both leaders come into the meeting with clear, realistic goals. Otherwise, the relationship between the two countries could quickly become fraught with frustration and misunderstandings.
“It’s important that the Trump administration approach this summit with a realistic perspective about what can be accomplished. There is a very wide gap between the U.S. and North Korean negotiating positions, and finding common ground will require a sustained diplomatic process with high-level buy-in from Pyongyang and Washington,” Daniel Wertz, associate director of the National Committee on North Korea, told Newsweek. “Denuclearization will not happen overnight, but a summit could get the ball rolling on both sides.”
If Trump and Kim are able to determine what the oft-repeated “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” would look like, that would be a positive first step, Wertz added. Trump and members of his team have also said that the U.S. would be willing to guarantee Kim’s safety and position in power if the country was willing to give up its nuclear weapons. But it’s unclear what that security guarantee would entail.
“A successful summit might also open the door to some confidence-building measures, such as the opening of a U.S. diplomatic office in North Korea and vice versa, or the resumption of U.S. missions to recover the remains of Korean War service members killed in North Korea,” Wertz said.
Some pundits have expressed concern that Trump will expect the summit to be an easy victory instead of the beginning of a sustained and arduous diplomatic process. With this in mind, coming up with a clear timeline going forward could also be key to success.
“President Trump last week acknowledged for the first time that the U.S.-North Korea summit must be a process that will take time to achieve denuclearization. This aligned him with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s position on a feasible timeline for denuclearization,” Patrick McEachern, a former foreign service officer in South Korea and a North Korea analyst, told Newsweek.
Success on June 12 could also mean that the two leaders define further topics to discuss, such as rolling back North Korea’s ballistic missile program and implementing a complete freeze on the production of nuclear materials. In recent weeks, Pyongyang has demonstrated willingness to pursue these options, inviting journalists to witness the demolition of a nuclear testing site and destroying missile launch stands. But some say it’s unlikely a specific statement will come out of the meeting.
“The best thing to look for is some type of joint statement that underscores a shared desire for denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula. These are Washington’s two goals, and this is what it will be looking for. In reality, what we actually get will likely be a more vague statement only pledging to continue to work together,” Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Wilson Center’s Asia program, told Newsweek.
“Given that not too long ago Trump and Kim were trading threats and threatening war, that would certainly qualify as a success of sorts,” Kugelman added. “The problem is, a vague statement pledging future cooperation doesn’t guarantee that the future cooperation will actually take place.”
Some believe that Trump should demand complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and abandon the meeting immediately if Kim doesn’t agree.
“He should disembark from Air Force One, head straight away into the meeting with no photos or handshakes allowed, sit across from Kim and ask one simple question: Are you ready to give up your nuclear weapons in a meaningful, timely and verifiable way?” Harry Kazianis, a director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest in Washington, D.C., told Newsweek.
“If the answer is yes, negotiating teams from both sides should write up a joint communiqué laying the terms of such an action out for the world to see—thereby truly making some history,” he said.
“If that happens, I say give Trump that Nobel [Peace] Prize we all know he wants. But if the answer is no, Trump should get up—doing what he promised—and leave,” Kazianis added. “For if the administration were to take one picture with Kim, shaking the leader of the free world’s hand—a massive concession Pyongyang would use for propaganda for decades—and not get a firm nuclear disarmament pledge, it would be an infamous blunder.”