WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump departed for Vietnam on Monday for his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, predicting “tremendous” results, even as top administration officials over the past few days have been tamping down expectations for the denuclearization talks.
“We’re speaking and we’re speaking loud, and frankly I think we’re going to have a tremendous summit,” Trump told a gathering of governors gathered for an unrelated meeting at the White House on Monday morning.
The president’s optimistic take comes as his own administration officials have downplayed the likelihood that a concrete denuclearization deal will emerge from the second series of meetings between the two leaders set for Wednesday and Thursday in Hanoi.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appearing on “Fox News Sunday” said a detailed deal “may not happen, but I hope that it will.”
“There may have to be another summit, we may not get everything done this week,” Pompeo said.
Trump and Kim’s first summit in Singapore produced a joint statement that focused on four broad agreements — North Korea committed to “work toward complete denuclearization,” both countries would work “to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula,” both countries would work on establishing a new relationship after years of diplomatic tensions and North Korea would return the remains of U.S. soldiers who died there during the Korean War. The statement has come under criticism from some foreign policy experts who note it was devoid of specific timelines and a mutually agreed-upon definition of denuclearization.
A senior Trump administration official speaking to reporters on Thursday said the administration was still working to understand North Korea’s definition of denuclearization and hoped to come out of the summit with “a shared understanding of what denuclearization is.”
“I don’t know if North Korea has made the choice yet to denuclearize, but the reason why we’re engaged in this is because we believe there is a possibility that North Korea could make the choice to fully denuclearize,” the official said.
Without an established definition or timeline for denuclearization in place — Trump has stated there is “all the time in the world” for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program — foreign policy and national security analysts have expressed reservations that the talks will result in a substantive agreement.
Victor Cha, a senior adviser and Korea Chair for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a bipartisan think tank, said while North Korea has “pacified quite a great deal,” suspending its nuclear weapons testing since Trump and Kim’s summit last June in Singapore, “that’s not just a function of the Trump administration, that has been the pattern historically going back 30 years” whenever the U.S. and North Korea enter negotiations.
“The most important thing is that this second summit has to produce tangible results,” Cha said. “The first summit in Singapore this past summer led to a joint statement that had a lot of principles in it, but no real substance. It was essentially an agreement on what the outcome of the negotiations should be. Which is denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, a peace treaty ending the Korean War and normal relations between the United States and North Korea, but there was really no progress in implementing any of those principles.”
Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative policy think tank, said in a report released last week that “U.S. claims of success at the 2018 Singapore Summit were excessive and premature. There has been no tangible progress on North Korean denuclearization.”
Klingner said while Trump often points to the release of four Americans detained by North Korea as a success story, 11 were released during the Obama administration. The administration often touts North Korea’s suspension of nuclear weapon and long-range missile testing, but Klinger said “there have been numerous instances of year-long-plus intervals” of no testing, including from 2006 to 2009.
“The U.S. is now risking a second summit meeting with North Korea without first insisting on fleshing out the bare bones of the Singapore Summit statement,” Klingner said. “There are concerns in Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo that President Trump may agree to several North Korean proposals that appear beneficial but contain hidden perils.”