President Trump is scheduled to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this week in Singapore to discuss whether the reclusive regime is prepared to scale back or eliminate its arsenal of nuclear weapons.
Here’s what you need to know.
What’s the summit about?
Trump is scheduled to meet Kim on Tuesday, and possibly on Wednesday, in Singapore. It’s historic because no U.S. president has ever met a North Korean leader. And it’s important because they’ll be discussing easing the threat of nuclear war.
When does it start?
They are supposed to sit down at 9 a.m. local time Tuesday (6 p.m. Monday in Los Angeles) at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa Island, which is in Singapore’s harbor. More than 1,000 journalists from around the globe have converged on Singapore, though few may actually lay eyes on the two leaders.
What’s the big deal?
North Korea is reclusive, totalitarian and to most of the world, a pariah state. It is known in the West for counterfeiting money, human rights horrors, cyberattacks and crazy-sounding threats. It also has several dozen nuclear warheads and missiles that could target U.S. allies in Asia or, in theory, the continental U.S.
Trump last year called Kim “Little Rocket Man” and “short and fat,” among other things. Kim called Trump “a frightened dog” and a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard,” sending Americans rushing to dictionaries. But that was then. Trump recently praised Kim as “very honorable,” and both seem determined to play nice in Singapore.
Didn’t we fight a war with North Korea?
Yes, and it never officially ended. After hundreds of thousands of deaths, including about 35,000 Americans, the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in a temporary armistice, not a peace treaty. It also left the Korean Peninsula divided, with the United States backing South Korea and China backing Communist North Korea. The U.S. keeps about 30,000 troops in South Korea and has a military alliance that guarantees its security.
What does the U.S. want?
Trump wants Kim to agree to what the U.S. calls a “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.” That means giving up its nuclear arsenal — and its ability to produce or procure more nuclear weapons — permanently. It also means allowing international inspectors in to ensure North Korea is not cheating.
What are the chances Trump will get that?
Slim to none.
The North Koreans, ruled by three generations of the Kim family, have spent more than 50 years and uncounted billions of dollars to build a nuclear arsenal that they see as the guarantee of their security. A realistic goal is an agreement that would lay out stages under which North Korea would meet specific benchmarks for reducing its weapons stockpile and get concessions in return. That could take months or years to hammer out and a decade or more to implement, military and arms-control experts say.
What does North Korea want?
It wants an end to what it calls “hostile” U.S. policies. That ultimately means diplomatic recognition, an easing of international economic sanctions and a lowering of the U.S. military presence in the region.
Have we tried this before?
Yes, there is a long, depressing record of failed nuclear negotiations with North Korea that began in the mid-1990s. Each U.S. president had the same goals, but each round of talks ultimately collapsed, and North Korea continued its nuclear and missile development. In each case, the U.S. side accused Pyongyang of cheating.
What is different this time?
Kim took power in 2011. Trump was elected in 2016. They’re both headstrong, unpredictable and willing to challenge the status quo. Oh, and North Korea poses a much greater potential threat because of its successful nuclear and missile tests last year.
What’s the likely outcome?
Trump has said this will be a “get to know you plus” summit, one that could lead to follow-up talks. Continued engagement would be a definite plus. It’s possible the two leaders could agree to open liaison offices in each other’s capitals. They could announce plans to formally end the Korean War or to delist North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. They even could announce that Kim will visit Mar-a-Lago.
Is anyone else involved?
All of northeast Asia is watching closely. South Korean President Moon Jae-in helped broker the summit, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to the White House last week to confer with Trump. Chinese President Xi Jinping has met with Kim twice since the summit was announced, and Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his foreign minister to Pyongyang last month to invite Kim to Moscow.
What if the talks collapse?
The best-case scenario is a return to the era of insults, threats and occasional skirmishes between North and South Korea. Worst case is another war.
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