Of the scheduled meeting between the United States and North Korea set for June 12, U.S. President Donald Trump said, “There are certain conditions we want to happen. I think we’ll get those conditions. And if we don’t, we won’t have the meeting.” President Trump told reporters that if the two countries do not meet this time, they would have a summit later, at some other time. At the same time, he said it would certainly be better if the denuclearization of North Korea happen all in one over a short period of time. President Trump also guaranteed the safety of North Korea and its leader Kim Jong Un adding, “His country will be rich.”
President Trump has been saying that he would leave the room if the Trump-Kim talks do not go well. But this is the first time that he mentioned the possibility of a cancellation or postponement of the talks. To be sure, his comments seem to be a part of negotiating strategy, but also suggested that he would not give in to the North’s threat that it may reconsider the summit with the United States. President Trump acknowledged that there may be “physical reasons” that make it difficult to dismantle the North’s nuclear programs in a single step. But he reiterated his demand of complete and rapid dismantlement of North Korean nuclear programs at once and made it clear that he would not accept North Korea’s demand that denuclearization of North Korea be achieved through “phased and simultaneous steps.”
President Trump put weight on the success of the summit with North Korea and suggested that the two sides are making an effort to reach an agreement through under-the-table negotiations. It seems that the United States wants the summit in Singapore to be an event, where the two leaders just sign and announce the agreement, already agreed by the two sides, rather than a bargaining table, where the two leaders meet and come to an agreement directly. It also means the United States is not intended to depend on working-level meetings to hammer out the details of an ambiguous agreement. President Trump’s comment implies that the United States will try to reach an agreement with North Korea until June 12 and is willing to delay the summit if it does not work out until then.
It appears that Pyongyang and Washington have already passed the stage of power struggle and have entered bargaining over detailed implementation of denuclearization and guarantee of security. North Korea wants as many phases as possible in denuclearization process so that it can get more economic rewards and greater security guarantee while the United States demands upfront dismantling of North Korean nuclear programs and guarantees security, which is a less burden. The details of the behind-the-curtain talks between the two sides cannot be known. A much-anticipated historic meeting between Kim and Trump will be evaluated not by the event itself but the content of the agreement.
Past agreements with North Korea were incomplete ones as the North had a change of heart even before the ink on the agreement dried. North Korea would want to produce a sloppy agreement to buy some time. But it has to be different this time. The agreement should be clear and uncontroversial so that the North would have no way out. Pyongyang and Washington would have to reach an agreement until the promised date of June 12, but they do not have to be constrained by time.