President Trump said Tuesday that he will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Feb. 27-28 in Vietnam for their second nuclear summit despite a lack of measurable progress since their first sit-down in Singapore in June.
The White House previously announced the second summit, but Trump disclosed the time and country in his State of the Union address. He did not name the city although Danang reportedly has been under consideration.
“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 with potentially millions of people killed,” Trump said even though tensions rose dramatically last spring when he and Kim were hurling insults and threats at each other.
“Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong Un is a good one,” Trump added.
North Korea has not conducted a nuclear test since the Singapore summit, after testing what it claimed to be a hydrogen bomb during Trump’s first year in office. That was the country’s sixth nuclear test since 2006.
Although Trump has boasted that America no longer faces a nuclear threat from Pyongyang, U.S. intelligence and United Nations monitors have warned that they see no sign that Kim’s government has begun to disable or dismantle its nuclear arsenal or production plants.
Diplomatic talks between Pyongyang and Washington over the last eight months made little apparent headway beyond setting up a second summit.
In Singapore, Trump and Kim agreed to a brief joint declaration calling for “full denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” but did not set a timeline or lay out any steps to reach that goal.
Trump also suspended long-standing joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises that had provoked Pyongyang’s ire. He is said to be considering another North Korean demand — moving to formally end the Korean War, which halted in an armistice in 1953 but not with a treaty.
In an interview with CBS News over the weekend, Trump said he had no plans to draw down the 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, a move that he previously said was under consideration.
Although Trump last year claimed North Korea is “no longer a nuclear threat,” the heads of U.S. intelligence agencies last week warned that denuclearization may never take place.
In an annual report to Congress, intelligence agencies concluded that North Korea is “unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons.” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Pyongyang’s “leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival.”
Leaders’ summits normally are carefully scripted in advance, with both sides clear before going in on what they will discuss and announce. Trump surprised his advisors with his ad hoc promises to Kim in Singapore, and may do so again when they meet a second time.
Bruce Klingner, a former Korea specialist at the CIA now at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the timing and venue of the summit were less important than the substance.
“What is critical,” Klingner said, “is that President Trump’s next meeting with Kim Jong Un go beyond the pomp and circumstance of the first to achieve real steps toward denuclearization.”
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