The Next North Korean Summit

President Donald Trump will hold a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in late February.

The White House made the announcement following an Oval Office meeting between President Trump and North Korean envoy, Kim Yong Chol.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the United States will “keep pressure and sanctions on North Korea until we see fully and verified denuclearization.”

But Cipher Brief Expert and former senior British diplomat Tim Willasey-Wilsey, who is also a Senior Visiting Research Fellow at Kings College London’s Department of War Studies, provides insight as to why the second summit agenda needs to focus on far more than just denuclearization. 

In the Singapore summit of June 2018, North Korea was desperate for sanctions relief and was willing to discuss significant nuclear reductions, if not complete disarmament. Pyongyang even hoped for an economic pact with Washington which might lessen its dependency on China, its uncomfortably powerful neighbour and ally.

But the opportunity was missed. The U.S. President did not use the leverage which sanctions had created. And since then, the U.S. has lost the cooperation of China through its hostile trade policy. Justified as that new U.S. stance towards China might be, it has wreaked havoc with China’s attitude towards the Korean peninsula. Observers in the border town of Dandong say that sanctions against North Korea have visibly eased. Meanwhile, South Korea is increasingly seeing sanctions as an irritating impediment to its plans to stimulate inter-Korean trade, cooperation and transport links.

Given these inauspicious signs, why is the summit moving forward?

For China, the big win would be the removal of U.S. troops from South Korea. Beijing will have watched Trump’s announcement of U.S. withdrawal from Syria (and indications of a pull-out from Afghanistan) with mounting excitement. With the authoritative figure of former Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis gone, China would be foolish not to try for a draw-down of U.S. forces from South Korea. Trump himself hinted at the idea shortly after the last Singapore summit. Even balancing that ambition against limitations on Trump’s freedom of manoeuvre; the new Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the potentially disruptive Mueller enquiry and National Security Advisor John Bolton’s attempts elsewhere to mitigate some of the President’s concessions; China still favours a second summit.

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