If only Nixon could go to China, perhaps only Trump could meet Kim: any other U.S. president would refrain from meeting with Kim Jong-un until after an agreement has been reached to roll back North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs. However, traditional U.S. foreign policy goes against Trump’s unorthodox style. With a firm belief that prior U.S. presidents have handled North Korea incorrectly, an innate desire to do things differently, and a supreme belief in his ability to make a deal, a one-on-one summit is the ideal platform for Trump to put his deal-making skills to the test. Kim also knows that the best chance of striking a deal is in a direct meeting with Trump. Both of these factors suggest that the summit will happen.
The real question is: can a meeting between Trump and Kim succeed? With little time until the summit, there are certain key issues that could make or break the summit. While the focus will be on North Korea’s willingness to denuclearize, Pyongyang’s willingness to allow verification of denuclearization will be the key. The Six Party Talks broke down over North Korea’s unwillingness to allow for verification. If Kim is unwilling to agree to this, the talks will break down. Additionally, if North Korea is only playing for time and is not serious about denuclearization, or if recent personnel changes in the Trump administration signal a turn towards a harder line on North Korea, a summit meeting is unlikely to be successful.
However, if the negotiators focus on agreeing on a set of principles for lower level talks and a tight timeline for discussions, the summit meeting could result in a breakthrough.