North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is ready for a second meeting with US president Donald Trump. Certainly the first one in June went well for him, giving his iron-fisted regime a credibility boost on the world stage and in the eyes of many North Koreans, who were told by state media it was the “treasured sword” of nuclear weapons that forced the US to the table.
South Korean president Moon Jae-in, fresh off a three-day visit to Kim, said today (Sept. 20) the North Korean leader expressed an interest not only in meeting Trump again, but also in hastening the denuclearization process and obtaining, by year’s end, an official end to the Korean War. That conflict, begun in 1950, resulted in an armistice in 1953 that ended hostilities, but an official peace treaty has remained elusive ever since.
Such a treaty would require participation from the US, which led UN troops from over 55 nations in the war. Trump administration members and others, however, fear that doing so would end the political justification (paywall) for US forces being stationed in South Korea, as about 28,000 troops currently are. (China, for one, would love to see those troops gone or reduced, and as North Korea’s largest trading partner has considerable sway with the Kim regime.)
As for Kim’s sincerity, skeptics abound. At this week’s summit, Kim and Moon agreed to many things. Among them: withdrawing some guard posts along their heavily fortified border; establishing a joint military committee to help lower tensions; and possibly bidding to host the 2032 Summer Olympics together. Whether such developments actually come to pass remains to be seen.
Kim also promised to dismantle a missile launchpad in the presence of international inspectors. That follows North Korea supposedly dismantling a nuclear test site in May, though critics contend it merely destroyed entrances and that the site could be made operational again. Others note that neither site is particularly important to North Korea’s weapons programs any longer.
Indeed, few observers believe North Korea is willing to give up its entire nuclear arsenal, or be truthful about the number and locations of all its weapons. The secretive nation has an extensive network of underground tunnels and could hide weapons of mass destruction from international inspectors.
Meanwhile, there are signs that North Korea is “still maintaining and developing its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs,” said Rosemary di Carlo, the head of political affairs at the United Nations, while addressing the UN Security Council this week.
But Kim does seem serious about developing North Korea’s economy. On that front, the US is “the primary obstacle in places like the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the IMF, where the North Koreans want money,” Georgetown University professor Victor Cha said on NBC’s Meet the Press in May.
The US would also, as a member of the UN Security Council, be needed for the lifting of the UN’s economic sanctions against North Korea, which have remained in place after growing increasingly intense last year as the Kim regime escalated its weapons testing.
At the first Trump-Kim summit, the US president gave the North Korean dictator a thumbs up in front of the cameras. That and the very fact the summit took place were wins for Kim. But for a second meeting, Kim will likely have more specific things—like economic concessions and the long-elusive peace treaty—in mind.