President Trump shocked the world, accepting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s invitation to discuss a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. It’s historic and high-stakes.
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WASHINGTON — President Trump announced Thursday that he will meet North Korea’s Kim Jong Un on June 12 in Singapore, setting up a historic summit in hopes of getting Kim to give up his nuclear weapons programs.
“The highly anticipated meeting between Kim Jong Un and myself will take place in Singapore on June 12th,” Trump tweeted. “We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!”
Trump will be the first sitting U.S. president to meet with a leader of North Korea, which emerged as a communist state from the dusk of World War II and the dawn of the Cold War. Its development of nuclear weapons over the past two decades has posed a major threat to global security.
Foreign policy analysts said the summit is likely to generate good headlines, given Trump’s eagerness to make a deal and Kim’s attempts to look cooperative. Some expressed skepticism that Kim would follow through on Trump’s major goal: North Korean disarmament.
“Can they get along? Yes,” said David Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “I think it’s highly, highly unlikely that Kim Jong Un actually gives up nuclear weapons.”
Trump’s tweeted announcement about the meeting capped weeks of negotiations that began when the president announced March 8 he had accepted Kim’s invitation, which was delivered by South Korean government officials.
Trump said he would continue urging China and other nations to cut off economic aid to North Korea until it agrees to give up its nuclear weapons programs.
“A lot of things can happen,” Trump said Wednesday. “A lot of good things can happen. A lot of bad things can happen. I believe that … both sides want to negotiate a deal.”
At a Thursday night rally in Elkhart, Ind., Trump said the meeting is designed “to pursue a future of peace and security for the world, for the whole world.” Trump said he thinks the meeting will be “a very big success,” but “if it isn’t, it isn’t, OK?”
In the run-up to the announcement, Trump praised Kim, a change from the rhetoric he used when he denounced the North Korean leader as “Little Rocket Man.” Trump had threatened to drop “fire and fury” on North Korea if Kim carried out his threats against the United States and its allies.
Negotiators cleared a major hurdle this week when North Korea released three American prisoners.
In welcoming the three back to the USA during a ceremony early Thursday morning, Trump said Kim “really was excellent to these three incredible people.”
Trump said his “proudest achievement … will be when we denuclearize that entire (Korean) peninsula. This is what people have been waiting for for a long time. Nobody thought we could be on this track in terms of speed.”
Asked whether he would visit North Korea, Trump said, “It could happen.”
South Korean officials have been involved in talks about the meetings.
In preparation for the high-stakes talks with Kim, Trump plans to consult with South Korean President Moon Jae-In when Moon visits the White House on May 22.
Some analysts suggested Trump was hasty in setting up a meeting with Kim, saying the summit alone confers immense prestige on Kim among the North Korean people. They noted that North Korea has failed to honor previous agreements.
Over the years, North Korea has demanded the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea and the elimination of the nuclear defense umbrella that covers the Korean Peninsula.
Historian Michael Cohen, author of American Maelstrom: The 1968 Election and the Politics of Division, said Kim might offer “a vague pledge” to denuclearize that Trump would declare as a victory, but North Korea would decline to follow through.
The potential pitfall is that Trump thinks that denuclearization is “going to happen and becomes angry when it doesn’t,” said Cohen, who writes a column for The Boston Globe.
Rothkopf said any substantial agreement between the United States and North Korea would have to define denuclearization, provide a timeline and include provisions for inspections.
Questioning whether Kim would get that specific, Rothkopf said the North Korea leader knows what happened to Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi — he gave up weapons of mass destruction and nuclear programs in 2003 and was overthrown and killed in 2011.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump viewed North Korea’s prisoner release as “a positive gesture,” but “total denuclearization will remain the top priority.”
Trump had discussed meeting with Kim in the Demilitarized Zone at the border between North and South Korea. The president and aides rejected the idea in favor of a more neutral side, though the final choice is much closer to Kim’s home base.
Kim needs to travel about 2,900 miles to get to Singapore, which is more than 9,600 miles from the White House.
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