As Trump-Kim Summit Takes Shape, Possible Outcomes Vary Wildly
(Bloomberg) -- A summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un looks increasingly likely to happen in the next few months, as their aides intensify preparations for what would be a historic meeting.
A face-to-face encounter between the leaders would in itself be an achievement that could significantly enhance their global standing. Yet, for Washington and Pyongyang, there’s a list of other potential goals that could be accomplished through their meeting, including a lasting agreement to end the almost 70-year state of war on the Korean Peninsula.
The agenda will be shaped in part by Kim’s expected April 27 border meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a key broker for the Trump summit. The U.S. president has said his goal for the summit is to quickly achieve “complete” denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which would require Kim to give up a weapons program his family has built over decades as key to their grip on power at home and their only real external deterrent.
Kim, meanwhile, may seek to get a U.S. commitment to halt or ease sanctions, scale back military exercises or take steps to normalize relations between the two countries. The meeting itself is already a diplomatic victory for the North Korean leader, who will benefit from being seen on an equal playing field with a U.S. president.
Even as the two governments prepare for a possible meeting, Trump is warning that he could back out, if the talks aren’t “fruitful.” And experts say that a summit would be the start of a long and fraught rapprochement, and that success may simply measured by an agreement to keep talking.
Here’s a look at some of the potentially attainable goals of a Trump-Kim meeting:
The U.S. and North Korea could commit to denuclearizing the peninsula, a result that would be seen as a major victory for Trump. But the details of the commitment would be critical. For instance, past agreements have broken down over what “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” means. While Moon said Kim isn’t insisting on the removal of American troops from the area, he might push for the U.S. to roll back its nuclear umbrella over South Korea and Japan.
“History has suggested we really have trouble implementing these deals,” said Patrick Cronin, director of the Center for a New America Security’s Asia-Pacific security program. “That’s the thing to be concerned about over time.”
Trump has said he wants to secure the release of three American citizens currently being detained in North Korea. Such a move could be an olive branch from Kim, who last year released college student Otto Warmbier to return to the U.S. after he had been detained for more than a year. Warmbier, who was healthy when he traveled to North Korea, returned in a coma and died a fews days later.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who traveled to Pyongyang earlier this month to meet with Kim, raised the issue of the three American detainees, according to a person familiar with the matter. Asked Wednesday whether he would cancel the planned meeting if there were no assurances that he detainees would be freed, Trump did not answer directly.
“We are likewise fighting very diligently to get the three American citizens back,” Trump said. “I think there’s a good chance of doing it.”
Kim could also offer to return some of the Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s. Trump pledged to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this week that he would bring up their cases during his summit with Kim.
Reopen Multilateral Talks
Trump and Kim could agree to re-open multilateral talks on denuclearization. The so-called six-party talks, also involving China, Japan, Russia and South Korea, fell apart in 2009, after North Korea tested missiles.
If Kim says he will declare his nuclear sites and let international observers visit them, it would be seen as a major breakthrough, although past talks have broken down over such inspections. The U.S. might also push North Korea to rejoin the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Kim could agree to advance talks on a peace treaty with South Korea that would bring an official end to the Korean War more than 65 years after the U.S. and North Korea agreed to end open hostilities. Trump said this week that Moon had his “blessing” to negotiate a peace deal, when he meets Kim next week.
“The fact that the president said he blesses the efforts for a North-South peace treaty is a victory for those of us who are maximalists -- we want the most out of the summit,” said Michael Pillsbury, the director of the Center for Chinese Strategy at the Hudson Institute.
The U.S. could offer to draw down the more than 25,000 troops stationed in South Korea -- a presence that has long been a sticking point for the North Koreans. Short of that, the U.S. could pause or scale back military exercises in the region. Trump did so earlier this year during the Winter Olympics in South Korea, where North Korea was participating in a diplomatic gesture.
Kim, for his part, could agree to an indefinite cessation of nuclear and missile tests. After a flurry of tests last year -- famously prompting Trump to brand Kim as “Little Rocket Man” -- North Korea has not tested missiles since last November.
Diplomatic Relations, Aid
The two countries could take steps to establish more formal diplomatic ties -- something North Korea has long sought. Such a move could open the door more humanitarian or economic aid to Pyongyang.
Before the last round of talks broke down, North Korea agreed to shut down nuclear facilities in exchange for steps toward normalizing relations with Japan and the U.S., as well as fuel aid. Trump has claimed that the heavy sanctions on North Korea he has championed have taken a toll on the Kim regime, forcing it to the table.
Enhanced Global Standing
Both Trump and Kim could significantly improve their international stature as a result of the meeting. Trump, who is largely unpopular globally, could gain accolades if he is able to move Kim toward abandoning his nuclear program and its threat to world peace. Kim, whose regime has been a pariah on the global stage, will gain new prominence just by being seen on an equal footing with a U.S. president.
The meeting could still fall apart, or the talks could break down, leaving both leaders empty-handed. Trump said this week he would “respectfully’’ excuse himself if the meeting was not producing results.
“If I don’t think it’s a meeting that’s going go be fruitful, we won’t go,” Trump said. “If the meeting when I’m there is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting.”
Such an outcome could raise the prospects for some kind of military confrontation.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.