With regard to a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un scheduled to be held in Vietnam on Feb. 26-27, U.S. President Donald Trump said Friday, “I’m in no rush for speed. We just don’t want testing." This sends a message that the Trump administration’s aim may be stopping the North from conducting additional nuclear and missile tests, not drawing up a roadmap for the complete denuclearization of Pyongyang. Some voice concern about whether Washington will lower its sights as increasingly expected by the international community, and agree on the disposal of the North’s future nuclear development capabilities and ICBMs, not including the regime’s nuclear warheads and materials.
Though Trump said he is hopeful that the upcoming summit will be “very much equally as successful” as the first summit in Singapore, his remarks made in an apparent move to lower expectations for the next summit signals a difficulty in ongoing working-level negotiations. North Korea has yet provided a response to a detailed roadmap for denuclearization proposed by Stephen Biegun, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea.
Trump may have meant to reveal his administration’s phased approach, with which the two sides first present tangible results by settling on the removal of nuclear facilities and ICBMs, and take time to move toward complete denuclearization. However, if the North gets to be rewarded with sanctions relief this time, it is likely to lose a motive to make further efforts to get rid of its nuclear arsenal, which would leave achieving the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as an unrealizable goal. In addition, once Washington makes the regime refrain from threatening the U.S. mainland with its missiles, Trump may promote it as a diplomatic success he has achieved ahead of the next presidential election.
As a country under direct threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, South Korea should have a clear aim: Presenting a detailed roadmap to dismantle all of Pyongyang’s nuclear materials and weapons at a second summit. Otherwise, the grand journey to complete denuclearization is likely to fall apart. President Moon is scheduled to have a phone conversation with President Trump ahead of the Vietnam summit to discuss the agenda. The Trump-Kim meeting should not be swayed by the two countries’ interest unless they want it to end fruitlessly like the first summit. To that end, Seoul needs to make all-out diplomatic efforts with Washington’s Congress, media, and think tanks. Remaining idle under such circumstances would certainly be a dereliction of duty.