On June 12, 2018, US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will hold an historic summit in Singapore. The summit, first announced in March, was temporarily canceled by Trump after North Korea criticized US insistence on the “Libya model.” Despite these setbacks, the United States, North Korea, and South Korea proceeded with a series of diplomatic meetings that have helped to set realistic conditions for the summit.
An Historic First Step. Breaking with tradition, this high-level summit marks the start of talks instead of the culmination of negotiations. As such, it is likely that both sides will agree to a set of principles that outline the contours of an agreement going forward. The following issues are expected to be included:
- Denuclearization. Kim Jong-un has expressed a willingness to denuclearize, but questions about his sincerity and expectations about the process and trade-offs remain. Unlike prior negotiations, however, this summit offers an unprecedented opportunity to discuss the prospects for denuclearization, including concessions on the US-side, at the highest level.
- Security assurances. North Korea has long asserted that its nuclear weapons are a necessary deterrent against the United States. As former Secretary of Defense William Perry said, “If I learned anything dealing with [North Koreans], it’s that their security is pre-eminent. They know we have the capability to defeat them, and they believe we have the intent to do so.” Credible security assurances may come in the form of a non-aggression pact or a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War.
- Economic benefits. The Trump administration has floated the promise of economic aid and investment as one incentive for North Korea to denuclearize, possibly in response to Kim Jong Un’s pivot to focus on the economy as part of his “byungjin” (or dual-track nuclear weapons and economic development) policy.
A Down Payment. The Trump administration has insisted on achieving a deal with North Korea where past US administrations have failed. Officials such as Acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton have suggested that the North could “front-load” a major concession-- such as relinquishing a handful of nuclear weapons or missiles-- as one way to test Kim Jong-un’s sincerity to denuclearize.
A Non-Summit or "Blown Up" Summit. Given the unpredictable track records of President Trump and Kim Jong Un, it is still possible that the summit will not occur -- or even the summit abruptly ends in acrimony. If there is little appetite for rescheduling talks, the challenge for both sides will be to resist the hostilities and military threats of the previous year. However, this scenario is unlikely given that the U.S., North Korea, China and South Korea very much want the summit to be viewed as a success.
The Lead Up
For additional information on the latest US-North Korea developments, check out these resources:
- "The Singapore Summit: What’s a Good Outcome?" 38 North Press Briefing at the Stimson Center featuring Ambassador Robert Gallucci, Suzanne DiMaggio, and Joel Wit.
- A Comprehensive History of North Korea’s Nuclear Program, Research at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation by Siegfried Hecker, Robert Carlin, and Elliot Serbin.
- "Trump’s Best Option for Denuclearizing North Korea," Commentary by Philip Yun in Reuters.
- "Why North Korea is Destroying its Nuclear Test Site," Analysis by Catherine Dill in BBC News.
- "Trump, Don’t Let Bolton Blow Up the North Korea Talks," Opinion by Tom Collina and Catherine Killough in The Hill.
Contact: Catherine Killough, firstname.lastname@example.org