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Schedule to signs: What to watch for when Trump and Kim meet in Singapore

Meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could lead to peace between countries that have technically been at war for 68 years.

world Updated: Jun 11, 2018 09:17 IST
Donald Trump,Kim Jong Un,North Korea
The vehicle carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong Un makes its way to the Istana, ahead of the summit between the North Korean leader and US President Donald Trump, in Singapore June 10, 2018. (REUTERS)

US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un begin their historic summit Tuesday in Singapore, a meeting that could lead to peace between countries that have technically been at war for 68 years--or swiftly end in new recriminations.

Trump has said the public will be able to tell how the summit goes by what he says afterward. If he resumes talking about his “maximum pressure” campaign to squeeze Kim’s regime, he said Thursday, “you’ll know the negotiation did not do well.”

It would’ve been hard to imagine the two leaders reaching this point just nine months ago. Trump labeled the North Korean leader “Little Rocket Man” in a speech to the UN General Assembly. Kim then called Trump a “mentally deranged US dotard” and a “frightened dog.” They threatened each other with nuclear war.

The stakes remain dizzyingly high and the developments are likely to come rapid-fire. Here’s a reader’s guide to some of Bloomberg’s best analysis, commentary, and breaking news ahead of the Trump-Kim summit:

What’s the schedule?

Kim arrived on Sunday afternoon in Singapore, and Trump followed in the evening, after attending the G-7 summit in Quebec. Their first meeting will be Tuesday at 9am local time (which is 6.30am in India) at the Capella Hotel, a five-star resort on Singapore’s Sentosa Island--and a former pirate haunt. The meeting could go one, two, or even three days, Trump told reporters in Washington. One thing the American president said wouldn’t make the schedule: a round of golf between the two leaders.

How we got here

Kim announced late last year that his country had obtained the ability to strike the US with a nuclear weapon, and soon after sought talks with South Korea on participating in the Winter Olympics. The moves defused immediate threats of military action by the US. In March, Trump stunned the world by agreeing to meet Kim after South Korean officials told him that North Korea would suspend missile and nuclear tests, tolerate American military drills and move toward denuclearization.

On May 10, Trump announced that he would meet Kim on June 12 in Singapore. Two weeks later, however, he canceled the meeting in a letter to Kim, citing “open hostility” from North Korea. After he sat down with a senior adviser to the North Korean leader in the White House, Trump said on June 1 the summit would take place as previously scheduled. Advance teams from North Korea and the U.S. have spent recent weeks in Singapore negotiating everything from presidential hotels to seating charts and lunch breaks during the summit.

US President Donald Trump waves after Air Force One arrived at Paya Lebar Air Base in Singapore on June 10, 2018. (AFP)

What does Trump want?

Trump’s goal is “ridding the United States and the world of threats posed by North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters on June 7. The US is also concerned about the proliferation of North Korea’s weapons and the infrastructure supporting its nuclear program, and will want those issues addressed as part of any deal.

Trump is pushing for complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization--considered the gold standard among arms control experts. Trump has also said he would raise the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea, after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lobbied him in a meeting in Washington on Thursday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, is greeted by Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan at the Changi International Airport, Sunday, June 10, 2018, in Singapore. (AP)

What does Kim want?

Kim will likely be eager to strike an agreement that eases sanctions and brings an end to the Korean War, while allowing him to keep at least part of his nuclear arsenal. He’s pushing for “complete denuclearization,” which includes removing the US nuclear umbrella in Northeast Asia that protects allies South Korea and Japan. Any framework agreement would likely require assurances that Kim could keep his grip on power even without nuclear weapons.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said last month that Kim was worried he couldn’t trust the U.S. to guarantee his security if he gives up his nuclear weapons. The summit itself provides a major propaganda win for the North Korean dictator, elevating him on the world stage to the level of the leader of the United States. He will likely look to further end his country’s isolation through increasing ties with China, South Korea, Russia and other nations.

How likely is a breakthrough agreement?

Experts are skeptical. At best, the meeting will likely provide a road map for future talks, each round of which will require difficult and complex negotiations. Most important, few believe Kim is actually willing to give up the nuclear weapons that cement his grip on power. Further complicating the task ahead: Trump says he wants any eventual deal to earn congressional approval, providing more assurance to Kim, and lessen the risk a future US administration would reverse whatever agreement he strikes. There is chance for some history, however.

Trump has openly floated the possibility of striking a peace deal formally ending the Korean War 65 years after an armistice ceased military hostilities. Such an agreement could give talks some symbolic momentum and bolster leaders in both South and North Korea politically.

What’s next

Following the meeting, Pompeo will travel to Beijing, Tokyo, and Seoul to brief regional powers on the talks. The US has warned of a few surefire signs that the discussions aren’t going well: if Trump decides to abruptly end the talks shortly after they begin, or if he emerges from the discussion by renewing his call for an international “maximum pressure” campaign. The White House says it’s already identified hundreds of additional sanctions targets if negotiations break down.

If things go well, South Korea’s Moon may seek a trilateral summit with Trump and Kim on July 27 to mark the anniversary of the Korean War armistice signed on that day in 1953, according to South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper. Trump has also said he’d consider inviting Kim to Washington for a second round of talks.

First Published: Jun 11, 2018 09:17 IST