(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un’s meeting in Singapore today seemed an unthinkable prospect just a year ago when the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea were exchanging insults and threats. The main topic will be denuclearization, but they appear to have different ideas of what that means and how long it might take. Overcoming those differences will be key to reaching a historic outcome.
1. What is the U.S. stance on denuclearization?
The U.S. wants to see “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula. Known in the arms-control world as “CVID,” this would involve dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program and stripping Kim of the ability to make nuclear bombs in the future.
2. What does denuclearization mean for North Korea?
North Korea in April committed to work toward “complete denuclearization,” without elaborating on what that meant. In 2016, a government spokesman called for “the denuclearization of the whole Korean peninsula and this includes the dismantlement of nukes in South Korea and its vicinity.” More recently, North Korea has framed its willingness to get rid of nuclear weapons in more of a global context, implying that it will do so in concert with established nuclear powers like the U.S., China and Russia.
3. Does the U.S. have nuclear weapons on the peninsula?
The U.S. hasn’t stationed them in South Korea since 1992, but it does provide a so-called nuclear umbrella that guarantees the safety of allies South Korea and Japan. Kim may ask the U.S. to remove the nuclear bombers it has stationed in Guam and cease patrols by its nuclear-armed submarines. The U.S. would be unlikely to agree to any measures that would leave its allies vulnerable.
4. What about the time frame for removing nuclear weapons?
Speed is crucial for the U.S. to avoid a lengthy process that provides sanctions relief for North Korea as well as time to advance its nuclear program even further. Even so, North Korea has made it clear it will not accept the so-called Libya model proposed by U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton under which the regime ships its nuclear arsenal out of the country in return for security guarantees and sanctions relief. Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi, who gave up his weapons of mass destruction in exchange for an easing of sanctions in 2003, was subsequently killed at the hands of U.S.-backed rebels.
5. Has any progress been made in this area?
A spat over the sequencing for denuclearization underpinned Trump’s decision last month to cancel the summit. North Korea then softened its tone by pushing for a “phased” approach to giving up its nuclear program. Trump has indicated flexibility, saying on June 1 that denuclearization is “going to be a process.” U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said afterward that North Korea would receive relief “when it demonstrates verifiable and irreversible steps to denuclearization.”
6. What might those steps look like?
They could include extending a moratorium on missile and nuclear testing, limiting and eventually eliminating North Korea’s stockpiles of fissile material, and closing its main nuclear facility, the Yongbyon nuclear plant. North Korea may also cap production and eventually eliminate its two classes of intercontinental ballistic missiles -- the Hwasong-14 and the larger and more developed Hwasong-15 -- as well as shorter-range missiles that would be used in an attack on Japan or South Korea. In addition, it could agree to allow independent inspectors into the country to verify all of is commitments.
7. What will North Korea seek in the negotiations?
Kim’s regime is looking for a reduction in U.S. troops, the curtailment of the U.S.-South Korean military drills, a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War, U.S. diplomatic recognition and the easing of sanctions that are starting to hit its economy. Most importantly, Kim’s regime wants its security guaranteed. After meeting Kim for the second time last month, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the North Korean leader was uncertain if he could “trust the U.S. saying that it’ll end hostile relations and guarantee the security of his regime after his denuclearization.”
8. Why does North Korea worry about its security?
The 1950s conflict between North Korea -- backed by China and the Soviet Union -- and U.S.-led forces supporting South Korea ended without a peace treaty. As such, the U.S. and North Korea are technically still at war. Kim, like his father and grandfather, views the U.S. -- which stations some 28,500 troops in South Korea and conducts drills with its military -- as an existential threat. Recent American military campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have only reinforced his view that nuclear weapons are necessary to deter a U.S. invasion.
9. Why does the U.S. worry about North Korea?
The U.S. has long been concerned that North Korea was developing a nuclear program that would threaten its allies in the region and eventually America itself. That worry turned into reality after Kim accelerated North Korea’s missile testing program and detonated a nuclear device 17 times more powerful than the bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima. Late last year, Kim announced North Korea had completed its nuclear deterrent -- in other words, it had an intercontinental ballistic missile that was capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the continental U.S.
The Reference Shelf
- The man who brought Trump and Kim to the table.
- A related QuickTake on North Korea’s nuclear program.
- Will Kim give up his weapons? History says no.
- A Bloomberg infographic on North Korea’s military buildup.
- What an end to the Korean War (after 65 years) would mean.
- Bloomberg explained why the nuclear club is a North Korean obsession.
- A research paper from the U.S.-Korea Institute outlines the expansion of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
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