10 things you need to know about the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore
The summit will be the first between a North Korean leader and a sitting American president
The on-again off-again summit between Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will take place on 12 June in Singapore, the first time a sitting US president will meet the head of the isolated state. It is a high-stakes bid to try to solve the issue of nuclear weapons that has dogged four US presidents.
How did we get here?
After fiery rhetoric between North Korea and the US last year, Kim declared in his New Year’s address that the country’s weapons programme was complete. He then launched a charm offensive with South Korea, using the Winter Olympics to send high-level officials to meet the South’s president, Moon Jae-in.
Those contacts culminated in a summit between Moon and Kim in April at a border village and a joint declaration that both leaders were committed to “complete denuclearisation”. Moon then brokered direct talks between US and North Korean officials, and when a senior South Korean official said Kim wanted to meet Trump, the impulsive US president reportedly accepted on the spot.
Who are the main players?
Kim Jong-un: The 34-year-old leader of North Korea who has incredible power and will benefit from simply meeting Trump. It will confer a sense of legitimacy on his rogue nation.
Donald Trump: The mercurial US president who is looking for a major win after an administration dogged by scandals and stalled legislative efforts at home.
Moon Jae-in: While the South Korean president may not be travelling to Singapore, his liberal government – elected after the downfall of his conservative predecessor – has been a major driver of rapprochement with the North.
Mike Pompeo: Washington’s top diplomat has been on the front line of salvaging the meeting and is the most senior American to meet Kim Jong-un.
Kim Yo-jong: Kim Jong-un’s sister has emerged as one of his closest aides. She acted as his envoy to the Winter Olympics in the South, spent almost the whole of his first summit with the South’s Moon Jae-in at his side, and accompanied him to China to meet President Xi Jinping. Kim Yo-jong is in Singapore with her brother, having flown on a separate aircraft to preserve the family bloodline in case of disaster.
What is the focus of the talks?
The Trump-Kim meeting is squarely centred on convincing North Korea to give up its nuclear arsenal. In a New Year’s address Kim stated the country’s weapons development was complete in the wake of the most powerful nuclear detonation, in September 2017, and missile tests that could theoretically hit the US mainland.
There are other major issues the international community would like to address, including North Korea’s stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons and the country’s dismal human rights record. But those are unlikely to be brought up directly by Trump.
What are the potential sticking points?
Both sides have traditionally had radically different definitions of the word “denuclearisation”. For the US, it means Pyongyang would immediately dismantle its weapons programme, ship nuclear warheads out of the country and allow international inspectors to verify the results.
In diplomatic speak this is known as complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement, or CVID for short.
North Korea likely envisions a staged process, where each concession from Pyongyang is met with something from Washington. Sanctions relief, economic aid, a formal peace treaty to end the 1950-53 Korean war and formal diplomatic ties could all be potential sweeteners to any deal.
Why is the summit being held in Singapore?
In the protocol-heavy world of diplomacy, everything is imbued with meaning. There was talk of holding the talks at Panmunjom, the “truce village” on the border between North and South Korea, but American officials worried it would be interpreted as the US being too accommodating of Kim.
Singapore has diplomatic relations with both the US and North Korea, and can be seen as a nominally neutral party.
What are the likely outcomes?
When he announced the summit was back on, Trump said: “We’re not going to sign something.”
He refused to comment on possible sanctions relief for North Korea, but added: “I look forward to the day when I can take the sanctions off North Korea.”
He also said additional economic restrictions were ready to be implemented should the talks fall apart. Kim is likely looking for some sanctions to be lifted as he tries to improve the North’s economy.
There have been reports Kim and Trump could declare a formal end to the Korean war, which ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.
But that might be complicated by the fact China would probably need to sign off on any agreement, since it was a signatory to the armistice pact.
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,” said Ryan Haas, an Asia expert at the John L. Thornton China Centre.
But a failure 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.”
How has China played a role?
China isn’t officially represented in the historic talks, but that hasn’t stopped Beijing from making its presence felt. Kim arrived in the city state Sunday aboard a Boeing 747 operated by Air China, China’s state-run flagship carrier. The flight was both a potent display of China’s industrial might – and a message that the country had North Korea’s back.
China has repeatedly sought to assert it’s crucial role in the talks. As North Korea’s largest trading partner, China’s enforcement of United Nations sanctions helped bring Kim to the negotiating table, while also shielding his regime from Trump’s threats of military action.
In the run-up to the summit, Kim visited China twice to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping. During their March meeting in Beijing, Xi told Kim that China had made a “strategic choice” to have friendly ties with North Korea, and that they would “remain unchanged under any circumstances”.
What weapons does North Korea have?
Estimates of Pyongyang’s arsenal vary. Monitoring groups estimated the yield from the North’s sixth and last atomic test in September to be as high as 250 kilotons – 16 times more powerful than the US bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945 and the kind of yield generated by a hydrogen bomb.
Seoul’s 2016 defence white paper, the most recent available, estimated the North had 50 kilos of plutonium – reportedly enough for about 10 bombs – and a “considerable” but unquantified ability to produce uranium weapons.
Last year, The Washington Post reported a US intelligence assessment that the North had up to 60 nuclear devices.
Aside from its nuclear arsenal, the North is also believed to have 2,500 to 5,000 tonnes of chemical weapons developed since the 1980s, according to the South’s military.
What does the US have?
Trump says his nuclear button is bigger than Kim’s – and it works.
According to the State Department, as of September 1, the US has a total of 1,393 deployed nuclear warheads, deliverable by land- and submarine-based missiles and heavy bombers.
It has thousands more in stockpiles and awaiting dismantlement, campaign groups say, with the Arms Control Association putting the total at 6,550 last year.
The US withdrew tactical nuclear weapons from the South in the 1990s and Seoul does not have any itself.
But the US can reach targets anywhere with conventional or nuclear munitions.
It has long-range bombers, mid-air refuelling capabilities, and a fleet of nuclear submarines constantly at sea, each armed with phenomenal destructive power.
The Guardian, Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Bloomberg, The Washington Post