There may be some flashy headlines coming out of the second meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam this week, but foreign-policy analysts say not to expect any big breakthroughs that would dismantle the nuclear program in North Korea, formally end the Korean War, or stop U.S. economic sanctions.
What to expect
Trump himself has lowered expectations for a breakthrough. “I’m in no rush for speed,” he said last week. “We just don’t want testing” of missiles or weapons.
Many policy experts have interpreted Trump’s statement as an indication that his chief objective will not be to achieve complete denuclearization in North Korea. Rather his focus will be ensuring that Kim is in fact following through on his promise to end nuclear testing, as he proclaimed in his New Year’s address.
“We talk about something that, frankly, he never spoke to anybody about, but we’re speaking and we’re speaking loud, and I think we could have a very good summit,” Trump told governors in Washington on Monday before departing for Hanoi. “I think we’ll have a very tremendous summit.”
The U.S. has not lifted the sanctions that it began imposing on North Korea in 2008. It is difficult to precisely gauge the North Korean economy, given that the country treats economic data as state secrets.
Trade between China and North Korea declined 80% to 90% in 2018 compared to 2017, according to official Chinese trade data. That, along with the sanctions imposed by the U.S. as well as other members of the United Nations, have presumably taken a major toll on their economy.
North Korea warned the U.N. on Thursday that it is facing a shortfall of up to 1.4 million tons of food in 2019 and has been forced to almost halve rations, according to a memo reviewed by Reuters.
“On the side of the president there is a major investigation going on and there is an opposition majority in Congress and he is frustrated because he hasn’t gotten funding for the wall” through Congress, said Scott Snyder, program director on U.S.-Korea Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“This offers an opportunity to have an accomplishment to distract from these other issues,” he said, adding that there is potential for Trump to achieve the Nobel Peace Prize if a resolution is reached.
Realistically, Snyder said that the best possible outcome from the two-day meeting beginning Wednesday is for both nations to establish a shared objective. “If both sides establish a process that will be enough to keep things going but if they can’t achieve that I think many people will see the meeting as a failure.”
What not to expect
Analysts say it’s unlikely that the meetings between Trump and Kim will lead Kim to forfeit all of the country’s nuclear weapons or Trump to lift sanctions.
What is clear is that both leaders are eager to come out of the meetings with concrete accomplishments, said Victor Cha, a senior adviser and Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“There’s a great deal of pressure on both leaders to produce tangible results out of this second meeting, since the first meeting effectively laid out a statement of principles between the two leaders about what the endgame or the outcome of these negotiations should be,” Cha said on a press call on Thursday which briefed reporters on the upcoming summit.
“The only tangible concession that was really made in Singapore was the president’s decision, impulsively, to suspend U.S.-South Korean military exercises,” Cha said.
Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan chair at CSIS, also said on the call that he doesn’t expect Trump to declare a withdrawal of troops from the Korean Peninsula.
Nevertheless, he is not ruling it out either. When the president announced in Singapore an eventual withdrawal of troops in Korea it was a “real shock to our allies and Congress.”
“The president may agree to an end-of-war declaration — not a peace treaty, but a declaration that the war has ended — and other things that make for good headlines but ultimately have no impact on the nuclear program,” Green said.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a Fox News interview on Friday that Trump “has had great success here in the fact they were able to even sit down at the table. The fact he is able to do it again is in itself a big success.”
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