Asia Pacific / Politics

Trump says three sites under consideration for January or February meeting with North Korea's Kim

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

A second U.S.-North Korea summit is expected to be held in either January or February, with three sites currently under consideration, U.S. President Donald Trump said Saturday.

Speaking aboard Air Force One, Trump was quoted as saying that said a second meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will happen soon, with the location and timing continuing to be hashed out as the two sides work toward the goals agreed to at the landmark first summit in Singapore in June.

Media pool reports quoted Trump as saying that he and Kim are “getting along very well” and have a “good relationship,” and that at some point he’d like to invite the North Korean leader to the United States.

Trump did not announce the candidate sites, but some observers have speculated that the president’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and Seoul could be possibilities.

At the Singapore meeting, Kim agreed to a vaguely worded 1½-page joint statement to “work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” while Trump committed to “provide security guarantees” to the North Korean regime.

But there has been little progress since, with denuclearization talks between the two countries effectively deadlocked.

Still, Trump has repeatedly boasted about what he says are North Korean steps toward relinquishing its nukes, hailing the absence of missile or nuclear tests since last year and the return of remains of U.S. service members killed in the 1950-53 Korean War as “incredible progress.”

Pyongyang has not tested a missile since November last year. With that test, of its powerful Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile — which experts believe is capable of striking most, if not all, of the United States — the North said it had “completed” its nuclear program.

But Trump has faced criticism over his claims of progress, with some saying there is no evidence the North has taken significant steps toward denuclearization, despite the president’s remarks to the contrary.

Earlier Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed the White House’s line, saying that the second summit would happen “pretty soon.”

“We’re working hard at it. I think it’ll happen shortly after the first of the year,” Pompeo said in an interview with CNN.

Pompeo also pointed to the halted missile and nuclear tests, and said that talks between the two sides were ongoing.

“We continue to have conversations about the right next step — that is the right substantive next step, not the process next step of meetings,” Pompeo said. “We’re working with partners all across the world — South Koreans, the Japanese.”

It was not clear what a “substantive next step” would be, but Washington has reportedly pushed for a declaration detailing the North’s weapons programs or a promise to rein in the deployment of its existing arsenal.

For its part, the North has said that crushing economic sanctions must be eased as a “corresponding” measure after its unilateral missile and nuclear test moratorium, the destruction of its main nuclear test site and the ongoing dismantling of a key missile engine test facility.

The White House, however, has given no hint that it is ready to lift sanctions.

“These are global sanctions put in place by the United Nations Security Council, which deny North Korea the capacity to improve their economy,” he said. “That’s not going to change, unlike previous administrations that when they got to a point that became difficult wrote checks for tens and hundreds of millions of dollars and let the North Koreans off the hook in that sense. We’re determined to fulfill the commitments that were made by Chairman Kim in Singapore and we’re working hard at it.”

Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor at International Christian University in Tokyo, said Trump’s interest in a second summit with Kim has likely grown after the midterm elections, which resulted in a Democratic-controlled House that is expected to question and resist his more adventurous foreign policy endeavors.

Trump, Nagy said, is now having to orient his efforts toward areas of governance where he has the most ability to act unilaterally — namely on the North Korean nuclear issue.

“It is strategically in Trump’s interests” to have the meeting before the new House convenes sometime in January, Nagy said. “If he achieves some real take homes, such as an accounting of DPRK capabilities, a formal moratorium on missile and nuclear development … he may be able to argue that has been an effective statesman in achieving a diplomatic breakthrough with Pyongyang.”

DPRK is the acronym for the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Nagy, who also serves as a visiting fellow at the Japan Institute for International Affairs in Tokyo, added that such a breakthrough could see North Korea making additional gestures such as destroying other missile systems, dismantling launch sites, revealing additional uranium processing sites or agreeing to international inspections.

“Pyongyang has numerous (nuclear weapons and missile) sites, according to open sources, and as a result they can allow inspectors to one site to demonstrate a kind of ‘good faith'” move, he said. Such a gesture “may allow the president to provide some targeted sanctions relief, as he is not wedded to any political view.”