President Donald Trump is considering when to meet Kim Jong-un for their second summit after inviting Russia’s President Vladimir Putin for a second summit, this time in Washington.
Trump appears far more concerned about Putin than he is about Kim as a result of the furor over his remarks about the U.S. intelligence establishment while he and Putin were standing side by side after their summit in Helsinki.
Trump’s foes in the media, at think tanks and in the U.S. Congress have accused him of betraying his own country by appearing to sympathize with Putin over accusations of Russian “meddling” in U.S. elections. The criticism was so intense that Trump felt compelled to say that of course he would criticize Putin if Russian operatives were discovered to have attempted to influence the outcome of American elections.
That comment raises the question of whether Trump would want a second summit with Kim in view of the failure of the North Koreans to do a thing about “complete denuclearization” as promised in the statement that both of them signed after their summit in Singapore last month. Trump has said he would indeed like to meet Kim again but appears to have forgotten about North Korea while preoccupied with the ruckus over his meeting with Putin and also over a range of controversial domestic issues, including his efforts at closing the U.S.-Mexico border to immigrants seeking to enter the United States illegally.
Pressure on Trump to see Kim again is rising while the North Koreans do nothing whatsoever about getting rid of their nuclear program. Instead of showing signs of following through on the commitment to denuclearization, they appear to be raising one problem after another while demanding “concessions” from both South Korea and the United States.
The question now is whether the North Koreans will really make good on their promise to turn over the remains of 55 Americans listed as missing in action from the Korean War. That’s the number that an American official has told journalists the North Koreans say they are ready to transfer at Panmunjom on or before the 65th anniversary of the signing the truce that ended the Korean War on July 27, 1953. The North Koreans are thought to be holding an additional 145 sets of remains ready for transfer but are apparently going to turn them over in batches while demanding that the United States sign a “peace declaration” formally ending the Korean War.
The Americans are stunned by the latest North Korean demands while highly uncertain how to respond. U.S. negotiating teams have been meeting North Koreans at Panmunjom, following up on a meeting between American and North Korean major generals at which they agreed on the transfer of remains and also on setting up joint teams to look for what’s left of still more of the 5,300 Americans still listed as “missing in action” from the Korean War.
Whenever negotiators meet for follow-up “working-level talks” on details of the search for remains, the North Koreans reportedly ask about the “peace declaration” and also raise the topic of doing away with sanctions imposed by the United Nations and the United States after the North’s missile and nuclear tests. The North Koreans have not exploded a nuclear warhead since their sixth test last September, but the United States has said the sanctions have to remain in place until the North makes good on “denuclearization” — or at least takes steps in that direction.
Trump reportedly is thinking that the only way to get Kim to honor his commitment is to stage another summit, but he hardly has time while concerned about the disaster of his summit with Putin and then U.S. congressional elections in November. His overriding concern is that the Republican Party will lose its majority in both houses of the Congress and he may even face impeachment proceedings.
Forestalling such a disaster, Trump is now saying that he’s not setting a timeline for North Korean denuclearization, and he’s not even pressuring openly for return of the remains. He would be overjoyed, however, if the North Koreans would just return a few sets of remains so that he could claim a triumph for his diplomacy with Kim. The longer the impasse goes on with North Koreans, the more it appears that the North Koreans are retrenching on all that Trump and Kim agreed on, however vaguely, in Singapore.
If Trump meets Putin before the congressional elections, as he has made clear he would like to do, then he may be ready to see Kim again soon afterward. His closest aides, notably John Bolton, the hawkish national security adviser, are cautioning, however, that he and Kim will probably settle on another meaningless statement similar to the one they signed after their summit in Singapore last month.
The North Koreans have already signaled they are doing nothing about denuclearization with editorial attacks in their media, notably the party newspaper Rodong Sinmuin, accusing South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in of having been “rude” and “insulting” by urging both the United States and North Korea to move quickly in following up on the Singapore summit. Moon’s remarks, during a visit to Singapore this month, made clear he was not happy about the slow pace of action on the statement signed by Trump and Kim.
The North Korean media are saying not one word about “denuclearization” — further proof, if any were needed, that the North has no intention of getting rid of its nuclear program.