North Korean leader Kim Jong Un boarded his armored train on Saturday afternoon (around 5 pm local time, 8 am in London) and departed for Hanoi, where he will meet President Trump and a team of American diplomats during a two day summit beginning on Wednesday.
The summit will occur against a backdrop of detente with North Korea’s puppetmaster, China – though the uneasy trade truce could very well collapse between now and then, potentially complicating Trump’s negotiations with the Koreans.
Since Kim abruptly announced more than a year ago that he would consider surrendering his nuclear stockpiles, end his anxiety-provoking missile and nuclear tests, and seek an agenda of rapproachment with his southern capitalist neighbors, handing Trump his first major geopolitical “win”, intelligence analysts have warned that almost no progress has been made during their periodic negotiations with the Koreans. The North, they have warned, has continued work on its nuclear program – Kim’s public shuttering of a nuclear facility last year was merely a charade. And at times, North Korean diplomats have failed to contain their frustrations with the US and warned that they would abandon their commitments unless the US agrees to gradually remove sanctions.
But Trump has brushed aside these concerns. Instead, he has gushed about he and Kim – whom he once derided as “rocket man” – have “fallen in love”, and joked that the North Korean economy will take off “like a rocket” once the negotiations have been completed. The president has even boasted about how his handling of North Korea earned him a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize (the nomination was reportedly submitted by Japanese leader Shinzo Abe), and that, if he had not been elected, the two countries “would be at war right now.”
Amid widespread skepticisim about the North’s motives persists, former CIA official Andrew Kim said Friday during a talk at Stanford that Kim told then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo during a visit to Pyongyang last year that he didn’t want his children to “shoulder the burden” of nuclear weapons, Reuters reported.
“‘I’m a father and a husband. And I have children’,” Andrew Kim quoted the North Korean leader as telling Pompeo, when asked whether he was willing to end his nuclear program.
“‘And I don’t want my children to carry the nuclear weapon on their back their whole life.’ That was his answer,” Andrew Kim told a lecture on Friday at Stanford University’s Asia Pacific Research Center, where he is a visiting scholar.
In the US, North Korea has been out of the headlines for a while (the tensions from the summer of 2017, when Americans feared a war with the rogue state might be imminent, seem like a distant memory). But that doesn’t mean the second summit (following the “very successful”, as Trump described it, meeting in Singapore) can’t have an impact on markets and/or the national psyche.
Markets could latch on to any progress (perhaps movement toward formally ending the Korean War) as one more reason to cheer stocks higher. While signs of difficulty could be interpreted as a proxy for the US’s relationship with China (Trump said Friday that Beijing had been “very helpful” in the US’s dealings with North Korea).
Feel-good rhetoric aside, international sanctions are hampering the North Korean economy (though it continues to find ways, like clandestine at-sea oil shipments) to meet its basic needs. But unless something truly unexpected happens, with so much happening back home in the US next week (between Q4 GDP, Jerome Powell’s testimony and the approaching tariff deadline, to name a few), it’s unlikely that Trump’s second meeting with Kim will generate the same cycle-dominating headlines that their last meeting did.
That is, unless Trump accomplishes something that would be truly worthy of a Nobel Prize.