Shortly after the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Donald Trump administration announced that the US president is aiming to host another summit with Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) leader Kim Jong Un in early 2019.
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton told reporters on Tuesday that President Trump plans to hold a second summit with Kim.
Accordingto the White House, up to three locations are under consideration; all of which are undisclosed.
The announcement of the summit comes amid a period of stalled progress between Pyongyang and Washington, with both sides unable to bridge the gap of expectations from the opposite side.
Bolton stated the summit was necessary in order to move things forward from this point, however, he did not give details as to how this can be done.
U.S. President Donald Trump (R) sits next to DPRK leader Kim Jong Un before their bilateral meeting at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore, June 12, 2018. /VCG Photo
Whilst ultimately such a summit is desirable in order to better develop relations between the two countries and bring to an end decades of hostility, if it is to be successful in brokering a deal, Trump must be prepared to be pragmatic and flexible in what he is willing to offer to Pyongyang.
The moment when the two leaders met in Singapore last June was one of optimism. It offered the promise of a brighter and more amicable future between the United States and the DPRK. Yet despite the events of that hopeful day, there has been little to nothing achieved
between Washington and Pyongyang directly.
Denuclearization remains a vague aspiration than a concrete plan or a path forwards.
There has been an abundance of commentary, by myself included and many others, as to why this is so. The fundamental obstacle identified in each assessment is the White House's stubborn insistence on not offering any sanctions relief until the process of denuclearization is complete, something that Pyongyang finds distrust worthy, unacceptable and capitulating; ultimately, a unilateral set of demands with no realism or objectivity concerning the situation whatsoever.
Whilst a second Kim-Trump summit should be welcomed to help move the process forward, if the administration cannot find room for compromise on this position, then the meeting will inevitably deliver more of the same and pose negative implications for America's foreign policy.
It should not be forgotten that there are numerous voices within Washington opposed to such a summit altogether. The first meeting between the two leaders alone was openly criticized by many hawks and conservatives with the attitude that a summit was too big a gift to Pyongyang that it should not have come without serious concessions from them first.
Despite Washington's obvious inflexibility since, those critics are now spinning the lack of progress since that time as purported “evidence” such a meeting was a mistake. They would like to return to imposing threats and pressure upon Pyongyang again.
Elevated view of Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, DPRK. /VCG Photo
Therefore, if a second summit is to be held, in meeting with Kim again the U.S. administration consequentially faces domestic pressure to achieve tangible results in order to carry the diplomatic process forward, lest the hawks completely seize the initiative and start questioning talks altogether.
However, if the inflexible attitude to sanctions is upheld, which is clearly already a product of the hawkish influence, then such results do not appear to be a realistic outcome. As a result, there is a risk yet again a high-stakes summit will end up achieving little, which will contribute to the narrative that the whole thing was a mistake by Trump.
Then what is the solution? Trump himself needs to be pragmatic and must, as he likes to do, seize the initiative, take control of the political paradigm and make a breakthrough deal at this summit which is realistic, but nevertheless not self-defeating.
Regardless of how the hawks will react, he needs to offer some sanctions relief in exchange for something meaningful. This, for example, could include a closure of the Yongbyon Complex and securing an end to DPRK's uranium enrichment and missile production. In other words, seeking a permanent cessation and capping of DPRK's nuclear expansion at its current level and capabilities. Such would be realistic and constitute a meaningful step forward.
Of course, hawkish commentators and foreign policymakers will protest that such an effort is not enough, that such a move is meaningless and that Pyongyang will cheat on it. However, if such an agreement is pulled off it is likely to be praised by the international community, which will see it as a movement towards peace, stability, and normality on the Korean Peninsula. This, in turn, will weaken the legitimacy of these critical positions and thus create a political space and scope for the diplomatic process to move forward and achieve more in the long run. The current stalemate cannot last forever.
Ultimately, pragmatism is the crucial formula for progress in negotiations between the United States and the DPRK.
Whilst a second Trump-Kim summit is a chance to map out a better arrangement between the two countries and lie to rest an enmity that has lasted nearly 70 years, if it is not approached with such realism and pragmatism, taking an open perspective as to what can be achieved bilaterally, rather than unilaterally, then things could always turn for the worse.