Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of the ruling Workers' Party Central Committee, arrived in Washington on Thursday for negotiations on a second summit between the two sides. He is expected to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for high-level talks and President Donald Trump to deliver North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's letter. It is very likely that Trump will officially announce a plan to hold a second summit with Kim.
Reportedly, Washington and Pyongyang fine-tuned agendas for denuclearization negotiations through their intelligence channels. The key lies in what "corresponding measures" Washington will propose in return for Pyongyang's advanced denuclearization steps. "At a second U.S.-North Korea summit, the North's card will likely be the issue of scrapping intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)," said Moon Jung-in, a special advisor for South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
If the North does scrap its Yongbyon nuclear facilities and ICBMs, as the presidential advisor mentioned, the action per se marks a significant progress in denuclearization. If the North stops there, however, there will be concerns that the denuclearization process could go no further than the North's halting of producing additional nuclear warheads and scrapping of delivery vehicles targeting the U.S. The dismantling of already produced nuclear warheads and materials – the key elements in denuclearization – might not happen at all. Washington has so far demanded that Pyongyang report its nuclear facilities as the first denuclearization step because it is the right path leading to true denuclearization, rather than a nuclear freeze.
However, there are concerns that with denuclearization negotiations stuck in a stalemate for over six months, the U.S. might attempt to wrap up the situation without substantial progress in seeking the North's nuclear scrapping. Some experts view that pushed by an urge to make a diplomatic legacy during his first term in office, Trump might seek a compromise by securing the North's ICBM crapping rather than full nuclear dismantlement, which is not a desperate issue to Washington.
Announcing the Missile Defense Review on Thursday, the U.S. president said: "Our goal is simple: to ensure that we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States anywhere, anytime, anyplace." While the remark sounds natural at a missile defense-related event, it attracts attention because he made the remark just before U.S. high-level talks with North Korea. If the U.S. accepts the North's ICBM scrapping at a second summit while Pyongyang demands an end-of-war declaration and U.S. troop withdrawal from the Korean Peninsula, South Korea could get lost in the journey for denuclearization.