I’ll spare the reader my predictions for what might—or might not—come out of the upcoming second U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi, Vietnam. (If you must know, I have shared a few broad thoughts on Twitter.) What follows here, rather, is a reading list comprising primarily of significant U.S. and North Korean statements since the second half of 2018.
To start off, I think it’s instructive to begin with the U.S. position. Here, two useful recent texts include U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun’s speech at Stanford at the end of last month. Biegun broadly outlined the administration’s objectives for diplomacy with North Korea as well as the approach that Washington had taken so far.
He was speaking not long after the diplomatic process resumed with a trip by Kim Jong Un’s top nuclear envoy Kim Yong Chol to Washington, D.C.. As far as expectations go, Biegun set them high, noting that Kim Jong Un had described a “commitment to dismantle and destroy their plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities”—including facilities outside of those at the Yongbyon complex.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
From Biegun’s speech, it’s best to look a few weeks back, to the event that relit the dimmed wick of U.S.-North Korea diplomacy in the final weeks of 2018. As he did in 2018, Kim Jong Un kicked off the year’s diplomacy with his New Year’s Day address. The full text of that speech is available here. I broke down the core takeaways for the U.S.-North Korea diplomatic process here for Politico magazine (the speech is far-reaching and covers several internal economic issues as well).
Your one takeaway from Kim’s speech should be the emphasis on the United States taking “trustworthy measures and corresponding practical actions”—a riff on the phrase “corresponding measures,” which first appeared in the inter-Korean Pyongyang Declaration of September 2018. This phrase is shorthand for sanctions relief—a core North Korean demand. If this were to arrive, Kim suggests, further concessions may be unlocked. As Biegun had acknowledged too, Kim had communicated it would be precisely these measures that would unlock access to the facilities at Yongbyon—and perhaps other sites.
What these corresponding measures are not, however, are measures related to points one and two of the June 2018 Singapore declaration—the document that resulted from the first historic Trump-Kim encounter last year. Given their importance, it’s worth recapping these here:
- The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new U.S.–DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
- The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
- Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
- The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
North Korea communicated this in a commentary that appeared in the Korean Central News Agency in early October, days after South Korean President Moon Jae-in met Kim in Pyongyang. I parsed out that commentary in a separate article for NKNews here. The short of it? In North Korea’s compartmentalization of the issues at play in the ongoing process, a declaration to end the Korean War dovetails with the first and second points of the Singapore declaration.
These are the core documents and statements worth keeping in mind as the Hanoi summit gets underway, but a few other points are worth keeping in mind. Trump has emphasized in the days leading up to his departure for Vietnam that he is in “no rush” to see denuclearization and is satisfied with the ongoing freeze in North Korea’s testing of nuclear devices and ballistic missiles. This serves to lower expectations after they might have been raised by Biegun at Stanford.
On the moratorium that North Korea continues to observe, it’s useful to revisit what is perhaps the most important address by Kim Jong Un throughout this entire process: his report to the Third Plenary Meeting of the Seventh Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea last April. There, he unilaterally noted that North Korea would no longer conduct tests of nuclear weapons or intercontinental-range ballistic missiles.
On the U.S. side, a few other useful points to revisit before Hanoi include the transcript of an interview this weekend between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and CNN’s Jake Tapper. The most relevant bit is on the administration’s current thinking about sanctions:
QUESTION: So I guess the question is: Has the Trump administration changed the conditions for sanction relief from complete denuclearization, as you said in that clip, to substantial reduction of risk?
SECRETARY POMPEO: No, Jake, there’s no change. Remember these sanctions cover a broad array of activities. The core economic sanctions, the sanctions that prevent countries from conducting trade, creating wealth for North Korea, those sanctions are definitely going to remain in place. There are other things we could do – exchanges of people, lots of other ways that North Korea is sanctioned today that if we get a substantial step and move forward we could certainly provide an outlet which would demonstrate our commitment to the process as well.
QUESTION: So it’s kind of a sliding scale: a substantial reduction, some sanctions are relieved but not all, and then complete denuclearization, more sanctions are relieved? Is that right?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Jake, remember the core sanctions, the core UN Security Council resolution sanctions, we’ve said consistently full, verified denuclearization – that’s the standard for relieving those sanctions. That policy has not changed since – I think since the day President Trump took office.
As a bonus, I’d recommend reading a recent address at Stanford University by former Central Intelligence Agency Korea Mission Center head Andrew Kim. Kim is no longer in government, but was at the center of U.S. efforts to approach North Korea last year. He was alongside Pompeo when he met Kim the first time around. In his speech, he defines the curious term the U.S. has used since last May: the “final, fully verified denuclearization” of North Korea, and tabulates what each side has given up to the other so far.
With all this in mind, let’s see what may come out of the Hanoi summit.