SEOUL, South Korea – Before President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet again in Vietnam on Feb. 27-28, there’s growing pressure that they forge a deal that puts them closer to ending the North Korean nuclear weapons threat.
But what could that look like?
Kim may be willing to dismantle his main nuclear complex. The U.S. may be willing to cough up concessions, maybe remove some sanctions. The question, however, is whether what’s on offer will be enough for the other side.
Here’s a look at what each side could be looking for as Trump and Kim try to settle a problem that has bedeviled generations of policymakers:
The North’s Yongbyon (sometimes spelled Nyongbyon) nuclear complex, located about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Pyongyang, has facilities that produce both plutonium and uranium, two key ingredients in nuclear weapons. North Korea’s state media have called the complex of a reported 390 buildings “the heart of our nuclear program.”
After a September meeting with Kim, South Korean President Moon Jae-in told reporters that Kim promised to dismantle the complex if the United States takes unspecified corresponding steps. Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, recently said that Kim also committed to the dismantlement and destruction of North Korea’s plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities when he met visiting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last October.
Since fresh diplomatic efforts began last year, the North has suspended nuclear and missile tests and dismantled its nuclear testing site and parts of its long-range rocket launch facility. But destroying the Yonbgyon complex would be Kim’s biggest disarmament step yet and would signal his resolve to move forward in negotiations with Trump.
There is worry among some, however, that the complex’s destruction won’t completely dispel widespread skepticism about North Korea denuclearization commitments. It would still have an estimated arsenal of as many as 70 nuclear weapons and more than 1,000 ballistic missiles. North Korea is also believed to be running multiple undisclosed uranium-enrichment facilities.
To get the North to commit to destroying the Yongbyon complex, some experts say Trump needs to make important concessions.
Those would likely need to include jointly declaring an end of the 1950-53 Korean War, opening a liaison office in Pyongyang, allowing North Korea to restart economic projects with South Korea and even easing some sanctions on the North.
Kim may most want sanctions relief to revive his country’s dilapidated economy and bolster his family’s dynastic rule.
“For North Korea, abandoning the Yongbyon complex is a fairly big (negotiating) card … so the North will likely try to win some economic benefits,” said Chon Hyun-joon, president of the Institute of Northeast Asia Peace Cooperation Studies in South Korea.
At the Singapore summit, Kim and Trump agreed to establish new relations between their countries and build a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. But they didn’t elaborate on how to pursue those goals.
North Korea has since complained about the lack of action by the United States, saying it already took disarmament steps, and returned American detainees and the remains of U.S. war dead.
The U.S., for its part, suspended some of its military drills with South Korea, a concession to North Korea, which calls the exercises dress rehearsal for invasion.
Some worry that a declaration ending the Korean War, stopped by an armistice and yet to be replaced with a peace treaty, might provide North Korea with a stronger basis to call for the withdrawal of 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea.
Trump defends work ethic after private schedules leak
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is pushing back against criticisms that a leak of his private schedule suggests he is not working hard.
Trump tweeted it “should have been reported as a positive, not a negative.”
He also suggested that when the term “executive time” appears on his schedule, it means he is “generally working, not relaxing.”
The president’s work ethic has been a topic of Washington conversation after Axios obtained three months of his private schedules.
They revealed that he spent 60 percent of his time in “executive time,” a term coined by former chief of staff John Kelly for unstructured time in Trump’s day. That time often coincides with when Trump is on Twitter.
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