The United States has announced that President Donald Trump will hold a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in late February. The news follows separate meetings between Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The growing gap between those two sets of talks — denuclearization discussions with the U.S. and Pyongyang’s warming relations with its neighbors — bodes ill for efforts to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. There is a very real danger that Trump, eager to say that he has solved the North Korean threat, will settle for an empty agreement that allows Pyongyang to claim that it is a de facto nuclear weapon state. That outcome must be avoided at all costs.
It has been seven months since Trump and Kim held their historic meeting in Singapore, after which the U.S. president declared that he had ended the North Korean nuclear threat. While nuclear and missile tests have halted, there are regular intelligence reports that the North continues to upgrade its nuclear and missile capabilities. The 2019 U.S. Ballistic Missile Review notes that North Korea “continues to pose an extraordinary threat and the United States must remain vigilant.”