Several things to watch as Trump, Kim meet in Vietnam

President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will sit down this week for their second high-profile meeting in less than a year.

The stakes will be high when the leaders meet in Hanoi, Vietnam, as Trump seeks to make progress on something his own intelligence chiefs have said Kim won’t do: relinquish his nuclear weapons.


Lawmakers and North Korea analysts have expressed low expectations for the summit, citing Pyongyang’s history of deception and the lack of progress at the first summit last summer in Singapore.

Trump himself had appeared to lower expectations heading into the Hanoi meeting.

“I don’t want to rush anybody,” Trump said in a speech Sunday. “I just don’t want testing. As long as there’s no testing, we’re happy.”

Yet Trump also said before he left Washington on Monday that he thinks “we’ll have a very tremendous summit.”

Here are five things to watch at the second Trump-Kim summit.

Is denuclearization defined and advanced?

The whole goal of U.S. diplomacy with North Korea is denuclearization — but the U.S. and North Korea have yet to agree on what that actually means.

North Korea has long held that denuclearization includes the U.S. nuclear umbrella protecting South Korea, something the U.S. rejects.

Senior administration officials have said that’s one area where they believe progress can be made at the summit, with negotiators working to nail down the definition ahead of the summit.

On top of that, North Korea watchers are looking to see if Pyongyang agrees to take any tangible steps toward its denuclearization, such as an offer to allow international inspectors to monitor the dismantlement of the Yongbyon nuclear complex.

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“There are many things he could do to demonstrate his commitment to denuclearization,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday on CNN about Kim. “I don’t want to get into the details of what’s being proposed, what the offers and counteroffers may be, but a real step, a demonstrable, verifiable step, is something that I know President Trump is very focused on achieving.”
Is there a peace declaration?

The other closely watched aspect of the negotiations has been whether Trump will agree to a peace declaration to end the Korean War.

The war ended in 1953 with an armistice, not a peace treaty, meaning it is still technically ongoing.

The idea of being the one to finally declare an end to the Korean War seems to appeal to Trump, who has often mused about getting a Nobel Peace Prize for his North Korea efforts.

Supporters of a peace declaration say it would pave the way for better U.S.-North Korea relations by stating the obvious — that the Korean War is over — without major negative ramifications because it’s not a treaty.

An official peace treaty would likely need to be signed by the same parties that signed the armistice — U.S.-led United Nations Command, North Korea and China — and be approved by the Senate, making a declaration more likely than a treaty.

South Korean officials including President Moon Jae-in have been among those pushing for such a declaration.

“We don’t know what format an end-of-war declaration would take, but there is every possibility of the U.S. and the North reaching agreement,” South Korean presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

But those who oppose a peace declaration say it would at best be meaningless since it’s not a treaty. At worst, they argue, it could lead to negative repercussions, such as the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea.

Do they agree on liaison offices?

U.S. officials have also been discussing the possibility of setting up liaison offices with North Korea as part of a package of proposals.

Supporters of the idea say it would be a way to improve communication with Pyongyang without lessening the pressure of sanctions.

Opponents say it would prematurely reward North Korea with partial normalization of relations before it takes any major steps to denuclearize.

The idea of setting up liaison offices is not new. The 1994 Agreed Framework included a provision to exchange liaison offices.

There were extensive negotiations to set up the offices during that time, with the United States even signing a lease agreement to use part of the German mission for its office.

By the end of the 1995, though, North Korea notified the U.S. it was canceling the exchange. It remains unclear why, but it is thought to be related to North Korea shooting down a U.S. Army helicopter that crossed over the demilitarized zone in late 1994.

Is Trump distracted by the news back home?

The first Trump-Kim summit received wall-to-wall coverage on news stations around the globe.

The second summit, however, will be competing with a marquee event back in Washington: congressional testimony by Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen.

Cohen has three days of appearances scheduled. On Tuesday and Thursday, he’ll testify behind closed doors to the Senate and House Intelligence committees.

On Wednesday, Cohen will testify publicly before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, a hearing likely to feature dramatic questioning that will dominate cable news footage.

The hearing will take place in the middle of the night in Vietnam. But as the past two years have shown, there is little aides can do to stop Trump from staying up to watch news coverage and tweet his reactions if he wants to.

There is other domestic news that could attract Trump’s attention, too. The Democratic-led House is expected to pass a resolution on Tuesday that would block Trump’s national emergency declaration, which he made to secure funding for a border wall.

Twitter attacks related to either the Cohen testimony or the House vote could lead to questions about how focused Trump is on an issue as delicate as nuclear negotiations with Kim.

But at least one potential major distraction has been taken off the table. Reports last week said special counsel Robert Mueller was preparing to wrap up his investigation into Russia’s election interference as soon as this week, but the Justice Department said Friday it’s not expecting the report this week.

Are there any surprises?

With Trump, it’s always prudent to expect the unexpected.

At the end of the Singapore summit, Trump announced he was suspending joint U.S.-South Korea military drills, which he derided as overly expensive “war games.”

The announcement caught both the Pentagon and South Korea by surprise and has left people on alert for a similar shocker coming out of Hanoi.

For example, there are lingering concerns Trump will agree to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea.

The concern significantly diminished after Washington and Seoul reached a new cost-sharing deal earlier this month for basing U.S. troops on the peninsula, shoring up a point of tension in the alliance.

And Trump insisted last week that pulling troops out of South Korea is “not one of the things on the table.”

Yet, when pressed on the matter later, Trump said: “Everything is on the table, everything.”
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