It is highly likely that the Kim-Trump summit will happen, as Pyongyang has been seeking direct talks with Washington for years. There is no better moment than this – during a reduction of tensions on the Korean peninsula – to finally give diplomacy a chance. It is time to recognize that the traditional approach, based on “maximum pressure and isolation,” has not led to any progress with North Korea. Whether the summit succeeds depends on what we expect from it. It would be fanciful to expect a meeting where Kim Jong Un agrees to give up his nuclear weapons. Rather, the summit represents a chance for the two parties to engage in constructive dialogue on how to draw a path, long and difficult, towards the management of the complex issues between them. The summit will succeed if, at its end, both parties have agreed to a timetable for future negotiations.
Kim Jong Un’s plan for North Korea is to make the country prosperous now that the national mission of acquiring ICBM capabilities is complete. Indeed, Kim offered to meet Trump not because his regime is suffering the harsh consequences of sanctions, but because North Korea is in a position of strength. After Kim’s recent meeting with President Xi, he is confident enough to sit at the negotiation table with the U.S. and freeze the testing of missile and nuclear devices in order to lead the country out of its economic isolation. This is crucial for Kim Jong Un to realize his goal of a prosperous and internationally-recognized North Korea.
The most consequential questions in anticipation of the summit are: what will the U.S. be willing to offer in return for its demands? And is the Trump administration “ready” for this meeting or will American officials just keep asking for the (highly unlikely) complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID) of the Korean Peninsula?