HANOI, Vietnam -- Speculation is running rampant as to what kind of deal the US and North Korea will draw up as US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un meet for their summit in Hanoi.
Trump and Kim began the two-day summit on Wednesday and are set to wrap up the event Thursday after a number of meetings.
Compared with the first US-North Korea summit, which took place in June, Kim this time around appears to have dedicated more time to advance preparations.
With the exception of a short visit to the North Korean Embassy, Kim remained at his hotel on the first day of the trip. He continued to maintain a low profile Wednesday while his aides visited industrial and tourism sites including Ha Long Bay, about 160 kilometers east of Hanoi. This stands in sharp contrast with Kim’s trip to Singapore in June, when he took a short tour around the city.
Kim is said to be focusing on preparing for his meeting with Trump, conferring with his aides and being briefed by the officials who led the working-level talks with the US.
While details of the working-level talks remain undisclosed, the two sides are rumored to have tentatively agreed on the joint statement that will come out of the summit, dubbed the “Hanoi declaration.”
Some experts say Kim is going into the talks with a major disadvantage.
“Kim has the power to do everything the US wants, but Trump doesn’t have the power to give everything North Korea wants,” professor Kim Joon-hyung of Handong Global University said at a forum in Hanoi.
The professor went on to add that any policy declared by Kim Jong-un will be upheld in North Korea and remain in place, but that the same cannot be said of decisions made by countries in which the leadership is subject to change.
Unconfirmed reports regarding the summit agreement indicate that North Korea may get the better deal.
According to US news reports, which cite anonymous officials familiar with the matter, the two sides are poised to sign a document declaring the end of the Korean War. The North will put an end to the Yongbyon nuclear facilities’ operations, the sources say, and the US will work on lifting some of the international sanctions in place against the North. In addition, North Korea may offer to give up other nuclear facilities.
The reports also say a North Korean liaison office will be set up in the US and a US office in North Korea. The agreement is said to contain a clause on the return of the remains of US soldiers killed during the Korean War.
If the reports are true, such an agreement would appear to represent only a small gain for the US.
It would also not be the first time such promises have been heard from the North. Records show that the North not only resumed its nuclear weapons program but significantly advanced it at a later date after promising to do away with it.
For North Korea, however, even partial sanctions relief would be a major win. Pyongyang has repeatedly called on Washington to reciprocate the steps it has taken toward denuclearization, while critics including US national security adviser John Bolton say Pyongyang has failed to uphold its part of the agreement reached in Singapore.
At the time, the North agreed to work toward complete denuclearization as well as improved relations with the US.
According to reports, the sanctions-related steps the US has allegedly agreed to take concern the resumption of inter-Korean projects.
Such a move would be welcomed by Seoul and, according to Cheong Wa Dae, would also relieve some of the pressure that the Trump administration faces in dealing with Pyongyang.
In a telephone conversation with Trump on Feb. 19, South Korean President Moon Jae-in suggested that South Korea could play a role in the corresponding measures demanded by Pyongyang and that he was ready to push inter-Korean projects, including economic projects, if requested by the US president.
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org
The Korea Herald Correspondent