Here’s a look at how Tuesday’s first-ever meeting between the leaders of North Korea and the United States might turn out:
WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE?
Success in Singapore would see North Korean leader Kim Jong-un making a bold decision to exchange his nukes for economic support and security assurances, according to Ryan Haas, an Asia expert at the John L. Thornton China Centre.
Both leaders would offer “clear, specific, unequivocal statements” outlining a dismantlement of North Korean weapons, an inventory and removal of all nuclear fuel and an opening up to UN nuclear inspectors.
US President Donald Trump has faced intense pressure to win something similar to this.
A group of opposition Democrats said in a statement that if Trump, a Republican, wants approval for a deal that allows an easing of sanctions on North Korea, he needs to get the permanent dismantlement and removal of “every single one of North Korea’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons,” end all military nuclear fuel production and missile and nuclear tests, and persuade Pyongyang to “commit to robust compliance inspections including a verification regime for North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.”
This is a very high bar, and probably unrealistic after one meeting.
SHOULD WE LOWER OUR EXPECTATIONS?
Probably. In fact, Trump has been doing quite a bit of this lately.
What was initially portrayed by the White House as a summit meant to completely rid the North of its nuclear weapons is now being cast as a chance to “start a dialogue” and for Trump the dealmaker to look into the eyes and take the measure of his nuclear-armed antagonist.
Ferial Saeed, a former State Department official, writes that the summit will be a “getting to know you meeting, ‘plus.’ That means, lower your expectations, and that the president is likely to lean toward keeping his own counsel and eschew a script. The ‘plus’ refers to discussions on ending the Korean War.”
China, both Koreas and the US would have to sign off on any legally binding treaty, so it’s unlikely Kim and Trump will do more than express an intention to end the war.
Trump, after meeting recently with a North Korean envoy at the White House, said the summit will likely be part of “a process.”
“I told them today, take your time. We can go fast, we can go slowly,” Trump said.
In part, these lowered expectations are a reflection of the extreme scepticism that the North can be persuaded to give up a nuclear program it has stubbornly built over the decades.
WHAT IF THE SUMMIT FAILS?
If things fall apart, it could be because “Trump presents Kim with a hard-and-fast binary choice: relinquish nuclear weapons and live in peace and prosperity, or cling to them and risk the impoverishment of your people and the safety of your regime,” Haas said.
But a failure on Tuesday doesn’t necessarily mean a return to the animosity of 2017.
That’s in part because of South Korea’s diplomatic outreach to the North, which was highlighted by two summits this spring between the rivals’ leaders.
If Trump and Kim fail in Singapore, “the result may be to enhance North Korean dependency on Seoul and Beijing as safety valves against the prospect of renewal of US-(North Korea) confrontation,” according to Scott Snyder, a Korea expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “This circumstance in and of itself provides a new buffer against the prospect of military escalation in Korea that was not present at the end of 2017.”