U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have agreed to hold a second summit in late February 2019. "We had a very good meeting yesterday with North Korea. That was an incredible meeting. It lasted almost two hours," Trump said of his meeting on Jan. 18 with North Korean envoy Kim Yong Chol, the North's vice chairman and former spy chief. “We have made a lot of progress as far as denuclearization is concerned.” He mentioned that a venue for the summit had been selected but would be announced later The plan for a second meeting is welcome news.
Now the question is what the isolated regime will receive from the U.S. in return for taking steps toward denuclearization and what form it will take. The challenge for the Trump administration is to provide security guarantees and more, if anything, for Kim Jong Un’s regime in exchange for its promise to allow inspections of its Yongbyon nuclear facility and dismantle the nuclear plant along with its intercontinental ballistic missiles. The two countries seemed to have reached a tentative agreement on the matter when the North Korean representative visited Washington.
However, it is too early to predict the outcome of the upcoming meeting. “The United States is going to continue to keep pressure and sanctions on North Korea until we see fully and verified denuclearization,” the White House said immediately after Kim Yong Chol’s visit to the Oval Office. The recalcitrant regime is not without skepticism as well. It has not yet announced to North Koreans that a second Trump-Kim meeting will be held. Each side’s skepticism suggests there are remaining differences between them.
Meanwhile, U.S. Special Representative to North Korea Stephen Biegun entered into four days of working-level talks in Stockholm, Sweden, with North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui on the same day that Kim Yong Chol returned home. The two sides began a tortuous push to hammer out deals to be discussed in the second meeting.
Both parties need to adopt a conciliatory approach. Given that Kim Jong Un has expressed his determination to clinch nuclear negotiations with the U.S. by repeatedly mentioning “bold decisions,” Washington, in particular, should come up with a practical approach to coax Kim’s regime to give up its nuclear program instead of cornering it. It will be difficult to achieve complete denuclearization all at once. Therefore, the path to denuclearization should begin with Pyongyang taking the initial step to dismantle its nuclear facilities and intercontinental ballistic missiles in exchange for a partial lifting of sanctions, including reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex.
While Trump and Kim’s first summit in Singapore in June 2018 focused on the symbolic gain of ending 70 years of hostility between the two adversaries, the second summit will have to work out exactly how to denuclearize the isolated state and improve relations between the two countries. For its part, South Korea’s Moon Jae-in administration should do its utmost to mediate between the two sides. The second Trump-Kim meeting will hopefully come to a successful conclusion and be followed by Kim's visit to the South, marking a turning point for permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.