Expectations low as Trump looks for win in NKorea summit
By JONATHAN LEMIRE
Monday, February 25
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump will head into his second meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un having reframed what would make a successful summit, lowering expectations for Pyongyang’s denuclearization while eager to declare a flashy victory to offset the political turmoil he faces at home.
Trump was the driving force behind this week’s Vietnam summit, aiming to recreate the global spectacle of his first meeting with Kim, although that initial summit yielded few concrete results and the months that followed have produced little optimism about what will be achieved in the sequel. He once warned that North Korea’s arsenal posed such a threat to humanity that he may have no choice but to rain “fire and fury” on the rogue nation, yet on Sunday declared that he was in no hurry for Pyongyang to prove it was abandoning its weapons.
“I’m not in a rush. I don’t want to rush anybody, I just don’t want testing. As long as there’s no testing, we’re happy,” Trump told a gathering of governors at the White House. Hours earlier, he ended a tweet about the summit by posing the key question that looms over their meeting in Vietnam: “Denuclearization?”
He did not provide an answer.
Though worries abound across world capitals about what Trump might be willing to give up in the name of a win, the president was ready to write himself into the history books before he and Kim even shake hands in Hanoi.
“If I were not elected president, you would have been in a war with North Korea,” Trump said last week. “We now have a situation where the relationships are good — where there has been no nuclear testing, no missiles, no rockets.”
Whatever the North Koreans have done so far, the survival of the Kim regime is always the primary concern.
Kim inherited a nascent, incomplete nuclear program from his father, and after years of accelerated effort and fighting through crippling sanctions, he built an arsenal that demonstrates the potential capability to deliver a thermonuclear weapon to the mainland United States. That is the fundamental reason Washington now sits at the negotiating table.
Kim, his world standing elevated after receiving an audience with a U.S. president, has yet to show a convincing sign that he is willing to deal away an arsenal that might provide a stronger guarantee of survival than whatever security assurance the United States could provide. The North Koreans have largely eschewed staff-level talks, pushing for discussions between Trump and Kim.
Trump will arrive in Hanoi on Tuesday on Air Force One while his counterpart, lacking a modern aircraft fleet, travels via armored train. Though details of the summit remain closely held, the two leaders are expected to meet at some point one-on-one, joined only by translators.
The easing of tension between the two nations, Trump and his allies believe, stems from the U.S. president’s own unorthodox and unpredictable style of diplomacy. Often prizing personal rapport over long-held strategic interests, Trump has pointed to his budding relationship with the young and reclusive leader, frequently showing visitors to the Oval Office his flattering letters from Kim.
Trump, who has long declared that North Korea represented the gravest foreign threat of his presidency, told reporters recently that his efforts to defang Pyongyang had moved Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to nominate him for a Nobel Peace Prize, something Abe would not confirm or deny. And, always with an eye on his media coverage, Trump had delighted in the round-the-clock phenomenon created by the first Kim summit, held last June in Singapore. He urged reluctant aides as early as last fall to begin preparations for a second meeting.
The images of the first face-to-face meeting between a U.S. president and his North Korean counterpart resonated across the globe. Four main goals emerged: establishing new relations between the nations, building a new peace on the Korean Peninsula, completing denuclearization of the peninsula and recovering U.S. POW/MIA remains from the Korean War.
While some remains have been returned to the United States, little has been achieved on the other points. Korean and American negotiators have not settled on either the parameters of denuclearization or the timetable for the removal of both Korean weapons and American sanctions.
“The key lessons of Singapore are that President Trump sees tremendous value in the imagery of diplomacy and wants to be seen as a bold leader, even if the substance of the diplomacy is far behind the pageantry,” said Abraham Denmark, director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
U.S. intelligence officials testified before Congress last month that it remains unlikely Kim would fully dismantle his arsenal. And many voices in the Trump administration, including national security adviser John Bolton, have expressed skepticism that North Korea would ever live up to a deal.
Mark Chinoy, senior fellow at U.S.-China Institute at the University of Southern California, made clear that after generations of hostility, the convivial atmosphere of Singapore “can’t be discounted.” But Chinoy noted that Trump had agreed to North Korean’s “formulation of ‘denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,’ which Pyongyang has long made clear meant an end to the US security alliance with South Korea and an end to the US nuclear umbrella intended to defend South Korea and Japan.”
After the last summit, Trump unilaterally suspended some military drills with South Korea, alarming some in Seoul and at the Pentagon. But he was insistent this week that he would not drawdown U.S. troops from South Korea. And American officials, even as they hint at a relaxed timetable for Pyongyang to account for its full arsenal, have continued to publicly insist they would not ease punishing sanctions on North Korea until denuclearization is complete.
A year ago, North Korea suspended its nuclear and long-range missile tests and said it dismantled its nuclear testing ground but those measures were not perceived as meaningful reductions. Experts believe Kim, who is enjoying warmer relations with South Korea and the easing of pressure from Russia and China, will seek a U.S. commitment for improved bilateral relations and partial sanctions relief while trying to minimize any concessions on his nuclear facilities and weapons.
“Kim is doing pretty well as it is,” said Scott Seaman of the Eurasia Group. “The threat of a U.S. military strike is essentially zero, Kim’s diplomatic charm offensive has made him into a bigger player on the world stage, and he continues to whittle away at international commitment to sanctions.”
The Hanoi summit comes at a politically perilous time for Trump.
His potential 2020 foes have begun unleashing their attacks. The newly elected Democratic House has begun its onslaught of investigations into the president, calling his former fixer, Michael Cohen, to appear before Congress while the president is in Vietnam. And special counsel Robert Mueller, who has investigated possible ties between Trump’s campaign Russian election interference, may finalize his report within days of the president’s return to the United States.
Trump may be eager to change the subject and some foreign policy experts fear that could prompt the president to make a significant concession or strike an attention-grabbing deal — such as a declaration to formally end the Korean War, which has been suspended in an armistice since 1953 — without extracting much in return from Kim. North Korea’s long history of human rights abuses is also unlikely to be on the agenda.
“Clearly, the president is looking for a win,” said Denmark. “The North Koreans know this and will likely expect President Trump to be looking to make an agreement with limited regard for its content.”
Associated Press writers Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul and Deb Riechmann, Catherine Lucey, Zeke Miller and Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.
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Follow all of AP’s summit coverage at https://apnews.com/Trump-KimSummit
Opinion: ‘Trump Doctrine’ Vs. ‘Nixon Doctrine’
By Donald Kirk
SEOUL — Is President Donald Trump capable of creating a “doctrine”? Can we dignify any of his utterances with the word, “doctrine”? Thae Yong-ho, the former North Korean deputy chief of mission at its embassy in London, has come up with just that term to describe Trump’s policy toward North Korea. He even compares the nascent “Trump doctrine” with the “Nixon doctrine.”
That’s bad news. I was following President Richard Nixon around East Asia in mid-1969 after he proclaimed the “Nixon doctrine” during a stopover on Guam. From there Nixon flew to Manila and then Saigon, where he met the president of the South Vietnamese regime, Nguyen Van Thieu, whom he pronounced one of the world’s “four or five” greatest leaders.
That bit of flattery was by way of ramming through “Vietnamization,” turning the war over to the South Vietnamese, withdrawing U.S. troops, stopping the bombing of North Vietnam and going into “peace” talks in Paris with the North. Those talks sputtered on until Nixon’s secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, signed the “Paris peace” in January 1973, agreeing to withdraw the last Americans and leaving the South Vietnamese to fend for themselves. The result was victory for the North in April 1975, after which there was no “North” and “South” Vietnam, just one Vietnam.
So what’s the “Nixon doctrine” have to do with the “Trump doctrine,” if indeed there is one? The answer, as Thae explained it at the Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club, is that Trump when he sees Kim Jong-un in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi may come up with a formulation that’s good for the United States and North Korea but not for South Korea. The Trump Doctrine, said Thae, will stop the nuclear threat against the United States but not against South Korea.
The inference is that Trump, like Nixon, would just as soon go back on “the South” — South Korea in Trump’s case, South Vietnam in Nixon’s.
If North Korea agrees not to fire long-range missiles bearing nuclear warheads against American targets, that should be good enough for Trump. Trump, of course, may not be aware of the existence of any full-blown “doctrine.” Nor would he acknowledge coming up with a formulation that South Koreans would view as betrayal.
Realistically, however, Kim is not going to give up his nuclear program. Nor is Trump going to insist on it.
Alarmingly, Stephen Biegun, in his first diplomatic post, is the one who’s negotiating pre-summit with the North Koreans. That’s like throwing an amateur into the ring with a veteran prize fighter. Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the Workers’ Party, of which Kim Jong-un is chairman, has been scheming against the Americans and South Koreans his entire career. As North Korea’s intelligence chief, he was responsible for the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan in which 46 sailors were killed by a torpedo fired by a mini-submarine.
Trump, as Thae observed, should demand not only complete denuclearization but also North Korea rejoining the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and the International Atomic Energy Agency. It’s doubtful Trump will be worrying about those details while Kim asks him to ease up on sanctions, withdraw some of the 28,500 U.S. troops from South Korea and, yes, please cancel military exercises as he did after their summit in Singapore last June.
So what’s Kim likely to give in return? The answer is not a lot. The question is what will he appear to be giving and how will he get out of any real commitment as he did after the Singapore summit when he ordered destruction of a nuclear test site that had already been largely destroyed in the North’s last nuclear test in September 2017.
With his economy in a shambles, hit by sanctions, Kim is waging a negotiating war of attrition. He’s already got South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in agreeing to a no-fly zone that will make it difficult for U.S. planes to operate as far south as Pyeongtaek, where the United States has concentrated its forces 65 kilometers south of the DMZ.
Oh, and Kim also wants an end-of-war declaration that Moon thinks would be great. As Thae noted, that would mean demanding dissolution of the U.N. Command that has been in charge of U.S., South Korean and allied troops since the Korean War. In negotiations with Trump, Kim is gaining tactical and strategic advantage without having to fire a shot or risk a life.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Donald Kirk has been a columnist for Korea Times, South China Morning Post many other newspapers and magazines. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
AP Explains: How to verify North Korea’s nukes
By HYUNG-JIN KIM
Monday, February 25
HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — The success of this week’s second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hinges largely on whether Kim proves he’s truly committed to denuclearization.
One of the simplest and surest ways for Kim to do so is by disclosing a detailed, complete inventory of his nuclear program and allowing a robust verification process. But he’s already opposed submitting such a declaration, saying it’s no different from providing the U.S. with a target list.
The summit in Hanoi may end without the submission of a nuclear declaration. But unless Trump wants to settle for the partial denuclearization of North Korea, the issue of a declaration and verification will likely eventually become a major sticking point in future negotiations as it did in past nuclear diplomacy.
A look at the declaration and verification standoff, which sparked the first round of the North Korean nuclear crisis 25 years ago and derailed six-nation diplomacy a decade ago:
THE DECLARATION DISPUTE
North Korea’s nuclear program remains shrouded in near-total secrecy. There are outside estimates on the North’s advancing weapons arsenals, but they vary widely.
If Kim really plans to abandon his nuclear ambition entirely as he’s pledged, he can first disclose details about his weapons program such as the number of nuclear warheads and missiles, the amount of fissile materials for bombs and alleged covert uranium-enrichment plants.
Then, he can let the U.S. and others verify his information by allowing them to visit declared sites, take samples, and interview scientists and engineers working there. This kind of verification must come before North Korea takes steps to disable, dismantle or destroy its nuclear facilities so as to prevent it from destroying evidence about its past nuclear activities, said analyst Shin Beomchul of Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
But during a meeting with visiting South Korean President Moon Jae-in in September, Kim said that “a request to submit (the declaration) at a time when confidence between the U.S. and North Korea hasn’t been established is same as requesting to submit a list of places for strikes,” according to Moon’s office.
Shin said Kim “is just trying to find an excuse not to” submit a declaration. He said North Korea can provide an initial declaration without specifying the locations for its nuclear-related assets so it doesn’t have to worry about U.S. attacks, and can declare their locations when it decides to have them denuclearized.
“A full declaration is a dead end because it is tantamount to surrender, and Kim has not surrendered nor will he,” nuclear physicist Siegfried S. Hecker, who has repeatedly visited nuclear facilities in North Korea, wrote in late November on 38 North, a website specializing in North Korea studies.
Hecker said actions like North Korea destroying a key nuclear facility and the U.S. taking steps toward normalizing ties would serve to build the trust required for the North to initiate a phased declaration process.
It’s no secret North Korea has facilities to produce both plutonium and highly enriched uranium, two key ingredients to manufacture bombs, at its main Yongbyon nuclear complex north of Pyongyang. Its plutonium factories were once the subject of international inspections, and North Korea in 2010 unveiled a small industrial-scale uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon to a Stanford University delegation that included Hecker.
But it’s not clear exactly how much weapons-grade plutonium or highly enriched uranium has been produced there or where the fissile materials are now. South Korean and other foreign assessments say the North has used some of those materials to build up to 60-70 nuclear warheads, but it’s not known where those weapons are deployed. The North has more than 1,000 ballistic missiles, some of which can be loaded with those bombs, but there is also no reliable information about their exact locations.
“The core of a declaration should be the amount of nuclear materials and warheads, rather than plants that have already been exposed to us,” said analyst Lee Choon Geun of South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute.
Plutonium-related factories are relatively large and generate much heat, making it easier for outsiders to detect. Thus, with satellite photos and reactor details from past inspections, it isn’t too difficult to estimate plutonium inventories. But it’s much more difficult or virtually impossible to estimate uranium inventories because the North is likely running multiple uranium-enrichment plants, experts say.
In South Korea, there has been recent media speculation that the North could end up providing a partial nuclear declaration during the Vietnam summit.
Stephen Biegun, the top U.S. envoy on North Korea, suggested that Washington might not push for a declaration at the start of the North’s denuclearization procedures.
“Before the process of denuclearization can be final, we must also have a complete understanding of the full extent of the North Korean weapons of mass destruction missile programs,” Biegun said in a Jan. 31 speech at Stanford University. “We will get that at some point through a comprehensive declaration.”
North Korea’s nuclear quest traces back to the late 1950s, when it signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with the Soviet Union. But it still joined the U.N.’s atomic watchdog, the IAEA, in 1974 and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1985.
After years of delay, North Korea submitted an inventory of its nuclear facilities and accepted IAEA inspections in 1992. But inconsistences quickly emerged between a North Korean declaration of the amount of plutonium extracted from spent reactor fuel at Yongbyon and an IAEA analysis.
The IAEA demanded special inspections at two undeclared sites. After rejecting that, an angry North Korea announced in 1993 that it was withdrawing from the nonproliferation treaty, touching off the first nuclear crisis. In June 1994, it quit the IAEA.
Tensions were lowered after the U.S. and North Korea signed a landmark disarmament-for-aid deal in October 1994. But the second crisis flared in 2002, when U.S. officials accused North Korea of covertly running a uranium-enrichment program.
Five years of regional disarmament talks involving the U.S., North and South Korea, China, Russia and Japan were subsequently launched in 2003. The six-party talks, held in Beijing in fits and starts, led North Korea to disable key elements at its plutonium-producing facilities at Yongbyon in return for energy, economic and security benefits.
In June 2008, North Korea handed over 18,000 pages of documents on its plutonium program, and a 60-page, partial accounting of its nuclear program that omitted details about nuclear warheads, a uranium-enrichment program and possible nuclear proliferation. The U.S. still responded by removing the North from its terrorism blacklist and relaxed some trade sanctions.
But squabbling erupted soon over how to verify North Korea’s nuclear past.
U.S. officials said North Korea had previously agreed to allow experts to take samples and conduct forensic tests at all of its declared nuclear facilities and undeclared sites. But the North countered that it only agreed to let nuclear inspectors visit its Yongbyon complex, view related documents and interview scientists, and said it would not allow outside inspectors to take samples.
Six-party talks held in December 2008 failed to resolve that dispute and have never been held again.
Russia: US asks for advice on North Korea talks
MOSCOW (AP) — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says the United States has asked Moscow’s advice in dealing with North Korea before a summit between President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader.
Trump and Kim Jong Un are expected to meet on Wednesday and Thursday in Vietnam’s capital. Their first meeting last summer ended without substantive agreements on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament.
Lavrov, who is also visiting Vietnam this week, said in comments carried by Russian news agencies on Monday that Russia believes that the U.S. ought to offer Pyongyang “security guarantees” for the disarmament deal to succeed. He also mentioned that “the U.S. is even asking our advice, our views on this or that scenario of” how the summit in Hanoi could pan out.