Second summit – who will be the winner? Trump or Kim, or both?

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By J.V. Lakshmana Rao

US President Donald Trump confirmed in a Twitter message on February 10 that he would be meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a summit for a second time in Vietnamese capital of Hanoi on February 27 and 28.

The first official information about his intended second summit was announced by Trump during his State of the Union address in Washington DC on February 5.Trump said that although his relations with Kim are cordial, much work remains to be done towards peace on the Korean Peninsula.

In the Twitter message, the US President also mentioned:“My representatives have just left North Korea after a very productive meeting and they agreed upon time and date for the second summit with Kim Jong Un…The second summit will take place in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, on February 27 and 28.  I look forward to seeing Chairman Kim and advancing the cause of peace.”

Simultaneously, the US State Department has announced that a special envoy for North Korea will meet again with Pyongyang officials ahead of the Trump-Kim talks.  It is possible by now an advance team of US diplomats and officials might have reached Hanoi to prepare for the Trump-Kim summit.

Trump, who has been the first US President ever to meet the Head of North Korea after the 1950-53 Korean War, has claimed that by his decision to engage the once-isolated Kim and participate in the first summit with the North Korean leader last year, the US has “averted a nuclear catastrophe.”

After sorting out initial doubts, misunderstandings and hiccups, for the first time Trump and Kim held a summit in Singapore on June 12 last year with lots of hopes and expectations from both sides. Trump at that time hoped that Kim would give up his much-pursued nuclear missile program.  Similarly Kim expected that Trump would lift sanctions, withdraw his troops and give up joint military exercise with South Korea in the region.

As if it has been a prelude to the possible second summit between North Korea and the US, without making any formal announcement about it, Kim has, in his New Year annual television address to his countrymen, sounded that he has been very much in favor of Trump’s initiative for reviving the peace talks. Kim has hinted at a possible cap on nuclear weapons production if the US takes favorable steps to lift economic sanctions and withdraw its troops from the region. This has been Kim’s oft-repeated expectation from the US. And Kim makes it clear his commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula would not be a unilateral offer of North Korea.

Kim looks forward for an early end to the US sanctions that would lead to economic development of his country, which would lead to the alleviation of poverty in his country.  At the same time he believes his stand on his weapons program would place him in a demanding position to extract concessions like withdrawal of troops from the Korean Peninsula and lifting of economic sanctions imposed on North Korea.

As far as mutual trust is concerned, Trump and Kim have to work a lot more to build it up though they both claim that they are good friends and supportive of each other.  It is now almost close to a year from the date that the much-talked-about joint peace declaration that was signed by Kim and Trump at the conclusion of the Singapore summit. But the US feels that North Korea has not done enough and some nuclear weapon-related work is still being pursued in North Korea.  On the other hand North Korea feels that though the US has stopped joint defense exercises with South Korea, it has not done promised troop reduction in the Peninsula. At the same time the US feels burdened to maintain the large troop strength without Seoul sharing the cost.

Whenever there is a proposal for the US-North Korean talks, Kim meets his confidante Xi Jinping, Chinese President and Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the People’s Republic of China, for consultation and advice.  Xi Jinping seems to be in favor of friendly relations between Kim and Trump under the new dispensation of weakening trade relations between the China and the US, and feels that lifting of economic sanctions by the US against North Korea would not only help North Korea’s economy, but also boost Chinese trade. From the time of the first summit in Singapore, the relations between North Korea and South Korea have vastly improved, despite not much progress having been made towards peace efforts.

Now due to a favorable atmosphere prevailing in the region because of the improved relations among the US, North Korea, South Korea, and China, Xi Jinping feels that the second Trump-Kim summit is a good augury for bettering his country’s trade with the US and also with North Korea. Therefore, China supports the second Trump-Kim summit.

But Kim knows that his trump card is holding on to his nuclear program for taming Trump’s “rigid attitude” and making him to relent to lift the economic sanctions towards North Korea and withdraw the US troop from the region.

As of now, Trump and Kim are holding on to their respective stands to pursue their demands. There is also no indication of what transpired in the “productive” talks “for advancing the cause of peace,” that the Trump team had with the officials of Kim, which had led to both the leaders agreeing for the second summit in Vietnam on February 27 and 28.

Will Trump and Kim relent and start working for peace? If so who will be the winner? Trump or Kim or both? The world is eagerly watching for the outcome of the Trump-Kim second summit.

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