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When Trump meets Kim, the sequel: same plot, same sticking points

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Episode 2 of “Trump Meets Kim” looks set for February 27-28 in Hanoi, Vietnam. Statements from recent talks between high-level US and North Korean officials ahead of the meeting witnessed Kim Jong-un complimenting President Trump on his “positive way of thinking”. Rhetorical flourishes aside, whether the second Trump-Kim summit will be successful depends on what Washington is willing to give away to catalyse a response from North Korea, and what Pyongyang gives away in return. Yet Seoul and Beijing remain key actors, too.

The outcome of the Singapore summit paled in comparison to what was anticipated. Amid the optics of the event came a declaration that contained words Pyongyang has been using even before Kim Jong-un took power: “denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”. Go back to the inter-Korean Joint Declaration of the Denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula in 1992, and we see the same phrase. When the term reappeared on June 12 2018, Pyongyang knew it could simply preach, but not practise, to “denuclearise”. In a KCNA commentary in December, Pyongyang clarified that denuclearisation meant “removing all elements of nuclear threats from the areas of both the north and the south of Korea and also from surrounding areas from where the Korean peninsula is targeted”. For Washington, it is still complete, verifiable, irreversible, dismantlement.

Trump confirms second meeting with Kim will be in Hanoi

For there to be progress in Vietnam, this definitional impasse must be overcome. Step one consists of North Korea’s full declaration of its nuclear arsenal, bases, facilities and fissile material – those known to us, and, crucially, those unknown – and history has seen that Pyongyang excels in dishonest declarations. A declaration is a big ask, but nuclear disarmament, if it commences, is going to be a long-term process by its very nature. Yet, the........

© South China Morning Post