What to Expect from Kim-Trump Rendezvous in Vietnam?

On February 27-28, Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, will host the second summit between US President Donald Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong-un. The first meeting of the two leaders was held last June in Singapore in a very friendly atmosphere. In their joint statement, both sides expressed a desire to strive for the establishment of a “new relationship”, lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula and its “complete denuclearization”.

However, after the historic Singapore summit, there was a long pause in dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington. North Koreans were not in a hurry to take new steps to dismantle their nuclear missile potential, believing that they have already made major concessions, stopping missiles and nuclear devices tests from the end of 2017, and also having detonated their nuclear test site in May 2018. At the same time, Washington did not want to weaken the sanctions against the DPRK and was not even ready for such a purely symbolic step as the declaration on the end of the Korean War.

Ice again began to move, when on January 18 the personal envoy of the DPRK leader Kim Yong-chol visited Washington and was received by the US president. Later the summit in Vietnam was announced. The choice of this East Asian country for Trump-Kim’s second rendezvous is not surprising. Like Singapore, Vietnam maintains good relations both with America and North Korea, and in this sense it is a comfortable place for both parties.

In contrast to the Singapore summit, the meeting in Vietnam will last two days. This suggests that the parties expect meaningful negotiations. Some optimism is also inspired by the fact that talks have already begun at the working level with participation of the State Department Special Representative Stephen Biegun and Kim Hyok-chol, former North Korean Ambassador to Spain. On January 31, Stephen Biegun made a speech at Stanford, where he outlined the United States’ new negotiating position. If earlier Washington insisted on complete and rapid denuclearization of the DPRK, Biegun’s statements suggest that Americans can now agree to an extended and gradual denuclearization process, and at each stage the DPRK will get parallel concessions from the United States in the form of economic sanctions weakening, political relations normalization etc. If the ongoing ad hoc negotiations are successful, in Vietnam Trump and Kim may well sign documents that contain more specifics than the Singapore statement. For example, one can talk about the closure of the nuclear research center in Yongbyon in exchange for a declaration on the end of war and certain sanctions easing.

Another achievement of the Vietnamese rendezvous could be the possible participation of the leaders of China and South Korea Xi Jinping and Moon Jae-in. There are persistent rumors about it. It is noteworthy that no one discusses possible participation of Russian representatives. Recently the Kremlin has not shown any particular activity with regard to North Korea. This is partly due to the fact that Vladimir Putin seems to be concentrated on the Middle East, where Moscow became one of the most influential players. It is there that the main resources of Russian diplomacy are engaged. However, Russia’s interference in the diplomatic process on the Korean Peninsula is not required at all, as it generally goes in a direction that meets Russian interests: the threat of a big war is away and the opposing sides are moving, even though slowly, towards mutual compromise.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.