By Youkyung Lee, Nick Wadhams, and Bloomberg
February 6, 2019

President Donald Trump said he’ll meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Feb. 27-28 in Vietnam, ending much of the months-long mystery over the details of their second summit.

“If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea,” Trump said Tuesday in his State of the Union speech. “Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong Un is a good one. Chairman Kim and I will meet again on February 27 and 28 in Vietnam.”

Trump didn’t say which city in Vietnam would host the summit.

Choosing a venue is one the biggest obstacles to arranging a follow-up meeting to Trump’s historic June summit in Singapore. Both Trump and Kim, whose nations have been locked in a hostile relationship for almost 70 years, have intense security requirements.

Vietnam had been considered a strong potential location because the communist state is a former Cold War ally of North Korea and a budding security partner to the U.S. Trump visited Hanoi and Danang in late 2017 and Kim would be able to reach the Southeast Asian nation largely by flying over friendly Chinese territory.

Kim has made no commitments to let North Korea’s arsenal be inspected or dismantled since agreeing to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” in his first meeting with Trump in June. North Korea has promised to destroy all its facilities for making nuclear-bomb fuel, the U.S.’s special representative Stephen Biegun said Jan. 31, in a sign that Trump was seeking clearer disarmament steps from the next summit.

“Time will tell what will happen with North Korea, but at the end of the previous administration, relationship was horrendous and very bad things were about to happen. Now a whole different story,” Trump said in a tweet Jan. 30. “I look forward to seeing Kim Jong Un shortly. Progress being made-big difference!” Trump said.

While the U.S. still insists it won’t lift its sanctions on North Korea until it gives up its nuclear weapons, Biegun made clear in a speech last week that Trump would be willing to provide some form of relief or incentives so Kim feels he’s getting something in return for nuclear disarmament.

Defining Denuclearization

Biegun’s speech — ahead of the envoy’s trip to Pyongyang on Wednesday — was the first full articulation of U.S. policy toward North Korea but didn’t didn’t say just what North Korea must commit to do after decades of broken promises and failed talks. Last week, Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, said North Korea is unlikely to give up its nuclear capabilities because Kim views “nuclear arms as critical to regime survival.”

Further complicating matters, Biegun acknowledged the two sides can’t even agree on what their shared pledge for “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” means. The U.S. says it refers to North Korea giving up its weapons of mass destruction. Kim’s regime suggests it should also include the U.S. agreeing to give up its “nuclear umbrella” protecting South Korea, possibly even by removing strategic bombers from Guam.

Trump has staked much of his approach toward North Korea on his personal relationship with Kim, a dictator who tolerates no opposition and routinely sends his own citizens to gulags. In September, Trump told a rally in West Virginia that he and Kim “fell in love” after meeting at the Singapore summit and exchanging letters.

Last year’s Trump-Kim summit drew some 3,000 journalists to Singapore, boosting the city-state’s hospitality industry and generating tens of millions of dollars of media exposure. While a second meeting would probably draw less attention, it could still provide a valuable moment in the international spotlight to one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

Hanoi’s success in normalizing ties with Washington after years of war could provide a model for Pyongyang as it pursues a path for diplomacy.

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