So, the date and location for the second US-North Korean summit have been set: February 27-28, Vietnam. During the annual state of the union address, President Donald Trump did not name the specific venue, even though it had been mentioned by American politicians earlier, and that is Da Nang.
Apparently, the place was not chosen accidentally. First of all, Americans believe that Vietnam pursues a “friendly” policy towards both the US and North Korea. Secondly, Vietnam as a site of the second meeting of US and North Korean leaders carries a certain political subtext.
This subtext was explained by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo during his visit to Vietnam in July 2018, when he urged North Korea to follow the example of that Southeastern Communist country. Vietnam, he said, managed to normalize relations with the United States in 1995, 20 years after bilateral ties were broken as a result of the Vietnam War.
Of course, Pyongyang will as always decide independently whether to follow the Vietnamese path or choose its own way. It will be sure to abide by protocol and demonstrate due respect to the opinions of its traditional partners – China and Russia, but will make its own decision. A lot will depend on what the Americans will want from North Korea in exchange for loyalty and cooperation.
In 1995, they didn’t demand much from Hanoi. As to Pyongyang, it can be said with certainty that the situation is much more complicated, both within the US and within North Korea and around it. It will not be easy for Pyongyang to go for actual nuclear disarmament, since Americans have still not offered any reliable guarantees of the country’s future existence. At the same time, Washington’s excessive political ambitions would not allow it to accept the Russian-Chinese settlement plan that envisages the setup of a new common security system in the region.
Meanwhile, the list of what the White House wants from North Korea keeps growing. This is seen from actions of Steven Biegun, US envoy on North Korea, who is now in Pyongyang, discussing the details of the forthcoming summit with the North Korean party.
According to reports in some South Korean mass media, Trump gave Biegun a difficult task: to convince North Korean leaders to disclose the entire situation with their nuclear and missile developments under corresponding programs. Washington wants to assess these programs and the potential threat posed by North Korea once again.
This openness, argues the US administration, will on the one hand prove that Pyongyang is determined to cooperate, and on the other, will demonstrate to Trump’s domestic opponents serious shifts on the North Korean trek of his new foreign policy, which remains obscure for many people. It is no secret that the US elites, hostile to Trump, have been increasingly blaming him for lack of result in his talks with North Korea.
It was in this context that Steven Biegun emphasized the firmness of the US position in the dialog, while in Seoul: until North Korean denuclearization is not complete, there can be no talk of softening, let alone lifting, sanctions. And withdrawal of US troops from South Korea is not and cannot be the subject of talks with Kim Jong-un, he pointed out.
It is too early to say whether Pyongyang will decide to meet America’s obviously excessive conditions. It looks like the North Korean leader has not made a decision yet. Like Trump, he does not need a quick success today. It is the negotiating process that matters for both parties. And Kim Jong-un is always ready to talk to Trump about the conditions of real improvement of bilateral relations.
Trump, however, keeps underpinning the “obvious” achievements already made in the area. These include the fact that North Korea suspended nuclear and missile tests, that the remains of US soldiers killed in the Korean War were returned home, and, finally, the commencement of the dialog with Pyongyang “within a shortest timeframe, in just 15 months.”
Moreover, the US President is never tired of talking about “good relations” with Kim Jong-un and another forthcoming “good meeting.”
The first US – North Korean summit in Singapore was one day long. Remarkably, the second one is planned to take two days. South Korean observers believe that the two leaders will have more detailed talks, including during a joint dinner.
It is equally remarkable that Donald Trump has announced his plans to meet with president of China Xi Jinping during his trip to Vietnam, although he did not name a specific location.
Even though the meeting is expected to center around the comprehensive deal to settle the trade disputes between the US and China, the deadline for which expires on March 1, it is obvious that the topic of North Korea will not be brushed aside. Beijing is not indifferent to the way the North Korean problem will be settled. China has substantial influence on the country’s leaders, and Trump takes it into account in his foreign policy, hoping to achieve constructive cooperation with China in this area.