WASHINGTON — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's wish list for his meeting Tuesday with President Trump at a resort in Singapore could shed light on the prospects for the summit.
Trump in the past promised "great things" for North Korea if it dismantles its nuclear program. On Friday, after meeting with the North's Vice Chairman Kim Yong Chol, the president appeared to tamp down expectations for next week's meeting, calling it "a get-to-know-you kind of a situation," and "a process" that starts with building relationships.
Trump said the U.S. and North Korea may agree in Singapore to formally end the Korean War, which has been frozen with an armistice agreement since 1953. He said he no longer wants to speak of "maximum pressure" on North Korea, and said South Korea, Japan and China are expected to provide economic assistance to the North if the summit goes well. He implied that U.S. sanctions could be lifted at a later point, which would allow business relations between the North and the United States for the first time.
But he is likely to hear from Kim that the North seeks more than a deal on nuclear weapons or a peace treaty. Here's what Kim wants:
U.S. security assurances
Kim's spokesman said last month that North Korea is not interested in giving up its nuclear program without a corresponding change in the U.S. military posture.
North Korea is not interested in "unilateral nuclear abandonment," Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan said in a statement, according to North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
He accused the White House and State Department of attempting to turn North Korea into another Libya by insisting on "abandoning nuclear weapons first, compensating afterward."
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi relinquished his nuclear weapons development program in return for normalized relations with the United States, but he was deposed in a rebellion supported by NATO.
North Korea's agreements and statements indicate Kim wants normalized relations with the United States. “An end to U.S. enmity remains Kim Jong Un’s aim just as it was his grandfather’s and father’s for the past 30 years,” said Leon Sigal, author of Disarming Strangers: Nuclear Diplomacy with North Korea.
Kim may be willing to denuclearize and even take steps to disarm if Trump commits to end hostile relations with North Korea and takes action to show the United States means it, Sigal wrote in March in 38 North, an independent online journal that provides analysis of North Korea.
A problem for U.S. leaders has been that North Korea's totalitarian government is so cruel to its people and aggressive toward its neighbors that allowing normal trade would be politically unappetizing.
In his New Year's speech, Kim said his poor country was ready to shift to economic development.
Past negotiations also focused on economic benefits. The United States offered to arrange energy assistance from petroleum producers, build two light-water nuclear reactors that would be difficult to use for producing weapons, provide food assistance and lift sanctions.
April's meeting of the rival Korean leaders ended with South Korean President Moon Jae-in's promise to connect and modernize railroad lines and roads.
To keep that pledge, the South would need waivers from United Nations Security Council sanctions on North Korea, something Trump appears ready to agree to provide to the South, China and Japan. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the United States would not provide any benefits until the North completely dismantled its nuclear program.
North Korea has made agreements while still advancing its nuclear program and can be expected to continue doing the same, said Richard Fisher, a Korea and China analyst at the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
While Kim negotiates with Trump, his engineers are probably perfecting a weapon that can strike the U.S. mainland, Fisher said."They tested two ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) capable of reaching the United States," Fisher said. "They have not yet demonstrated that the missile could carry a warhead that would survive re-entry with some level of accuracy. I’m sure they’re working day and night to develop a viable warhead."
Work with China
Kim's negotiations with Trump and Moon "allowed this megalomaniac leader to seem reasonable on the world stage," and furthers a shared North Korean and Chinese goal to reduce U.S. influence in northeast Asia, Fisher said.
"Prior to these negotiations, Kim Jong Un was seen as a missile-rattling rocket boy threat to the world. (Chinese President Xi Jinping) couldn’t embrace him," Fisher said. "Now that the negotiations have gone as far as they have, Xi can embrace this young leader and solidify their already very close cooperation."
Other leaders have too. Russia has invited Kim to a conference in Vladivostok in September, and KCNA announced Sunday that Syrian President Bashar Assad will be the first head of state to visit Kim in Pyongyang.
Kim and China seek an end to the U.S. military presence in South Korea, Fisher said. "They want the Americans off the Korean Peninsula. They want full range and freedom to intimidate South Korea even more and to isolate Japan," he said. "It's all part of a larger goal of forcing American power back to Hawaii and California."