With US President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un now in closer proximity than ever on Singaporean soil, all the world is anxious to know what is on the summit’s agenda and how the impending game of high-stakes diplomacy is going to play out.
While North Korea’s denuclearisation is undeniably the hottest topic laid out on the table by the US, Pyongyang has been rather reticent, divulging very little about its objectives for the historic meeting.
Considering North Korea’s decades-long history rife with domestic and international struggles and current economic state of affairs, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume that Kim views the summit as an opportunity to spark a positive turnabout for his beloved motherland, opening the floodgates to much desired prosperity.
And perhaps, a chance to strike a deal with Trump that might guarantee North Korea’s security while helping the country realise its dream of being recognised on the international stage.
What the US wants: Denuclearisation and possible end to the Korean War
Although no official list of topics has been formally released by The White House yet, denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula will be at the forefront of discussions, wrote American political journalism company Politico.
The discussion is expected to delve deeper into the formulation of a timeline and disclosure of technical details with regards to the dismantling of Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal and stifling of its weapons-manufacturing capabilities.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, stated last Thursday (Jun 7) that Kim Jong Un had expressed willingness to denuclearise, alluding to North Korea’s seriousness about toning down its weapons programme.
The Trump administration had made clear that it wants the talks to begin and end with the issue, and that progress heavily depends on Kim’s eagerness to execute “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation”, according to a statement made by State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert in May.
In that same month, North Korean officials reportedly said that efforts have already been made to disarm, claiming that they had destroyed the country’s key nuclear weapons testing site.
Total eradication of North Korea’s nuclear programme will not be achieved with just one meeting however, as the summit would only provide fertile ground for further negotiations and mark the initiation of possible long-term plans that might take years to come to any sort of fruition.
In the wake of his meeting with Kim’s right-hand man, General Kim Yong-chol, Trump seemed to dismiss the prospect of the US signing a formal agreement with Pyongyang during the summit that would lead to guaranteed nuclear disarmament.
“It’ll be a beginning. I don’t say and I’ve never said it happens in one meeting. You’re talking about years of hostility,” Trump said.
“We’re not going to go in and sign something on June 12 and we never will. We’re going to start a process.”
Although pressuring North Korea to give up its nuclear weaponry entails a considerable level of uncertainty, bringing a formal end to the Korean War would seem like a more probable achievement for the summit.
Trump had expressed readiness to sign a deal that would officiate the end to the Korean War, which came to a standstill after an armistice in 1953 but never reached a conclusion – technically, North and South Korea are still at war.
He said: “We could absolutely sign an agreement with North Korea. But that’s really the beginning. The hard part remains after that.”
What North Korea wants: Relief from sanctions and compromise
North Korea’s state news agency KCNA said Trump and Kim would discuss a “permanent and durable peace-keeping mechanism” for the Korean peninsula, its denuclearisation and “other issues of mutual concern”.
But things might not be so simple.
Giving up its nuclear arsenal would mean the loss of North Korea’s most valuable bargaining chip, leaving it in a vulnerable and unfavourable position to negotiate a loosening of US-imposed sanctions that have strangled the country’s economy.
What Kim’s regime is aiming for is a “phased approach” which involves early lifting of sanctions that would lead to prosperity and better life for North Koreans. In order to achieve that, Kim would be willing to denuclearise but it may contend for some level of compromise with regards to the extent of disarmament.
That’s not all that Kim wants out of the meeting with his American counterpart.
He desires his country to be recognised as a sovereign state that carries legitimate power and demands assurance that the US would not abuse North Korea’s denuclearisation as an opportunity to destroy it, causing him to suffer the same fate as dictators Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi.
In addition, Kim might want to see a dampening of US-South Korea diplomatic and military ties, which to him is a clear and present danger to both his country’s sovereignty and security.
If the US seriously wants North Korea to surrender its nuclear arsenal, Kim could very well insist on reciprocation in the form of decoupling or at the very least, restraint on joint US-South Korean military activity.
Whether any of the US or North Korea’s demands will be amicably met remains to be seen.