Ahead of historic North Korea summit, there are still more questions than answers as Trump leads with his gut

Analysis: US president prides himself on his instincts, which makes the outcome of the meeting with Kim Jong-un difficult to predict

Chris Stevenson
International Editor
Saturday 09 June 2018 18:55
Trump says he 'doesn't need to prepare' for North Korea summit

The on-again/off-again negotiations that have preceded the historic meeting between Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have offered a pretty clear indication of how the summit may play out: expect the unexpected.

Having called off the unprecedented talks near the end of last month, blaming the “open hostility” of comments from Pyongyang, the US president now says North Korea is working with his administration “very well” to ensure the Singapore meeting is a success.

But for Mr Trump, who prides himself as his ability to do deals, it will all be about the personal touch. Ahead of a meeting with Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday, the president said that the meeting would be about “attitude” rather than preparation.

“I think I'm very well prepared,” Mr Trump told reporters. “I don't think I have to prepare very much. It's about attitude.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cleared up afterwards that Mr Trump had been receiving briefings on the North Korea for months. It is believed those verbal and written briefings have included everything from Mr Kim’s family history, to details of previous failed diplomacy efforts over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes and the status of those programmes.

However, it is Mr Trump’s instincts that will likely play a major role, with the president having the upmost confidence in his ability to read people.

Speaking at the G7 summit in Canada on Saturday, ahead of his flight to Singapore, Mr Trump made clear that he does have an objective. It is one that White House officials have constantly referred back to: the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

But his comments made clear that he will be lead by his gut.

“I have a clear objective, but I have to say that it's going to be something that will always be spur of the moment. This has not been done before at this level. This is a leader who really is an unknown personality,” Mr Trump said.

“People don't know much about him. I think that he's going to surprise on the upside, very much on the upside.”

The president said said he will know “within the first minute” of meeting Mr Kim whether the North Korean leader is serious about the nuclear negotiations.

“I think I'll know pretty quickly whether or not, in my opinion, something positive will happen. And if I think it won't happen, I'm not going to waste my time. I don't want to waste his time,” Mr Trump said.

“He could take that nation with those great people and truly make it great, so it's a one-time, it's a one-time shot, and I think it's going to work out very well,” he added. “That's why I feel positive, because it makes so much sense.”

While that positivity will certainly help, both sides have shown that goodwill can sour quickly. Before the recent engagement between the nations, Mr Trump spent most of 2017 trading military threats with Pyongyang about an increased number of nuclear and missile tests.

Mr Trump said he would bring “fire and fury” down on North Korea if efforts towards nuclear weapons did not stop, while Mr Kim threatened the US territory of Guam.

As for North Korea, state media has remained relatively quiet on the subject of the Singapore summit since it was declared back on, as opposed to Mr Trump’s frequent comments. But with Mr Kim in his mid-thirties, it is unclear how he will deal with Mr Trump – a man twice his age – in the first meeting between a sitting US president and the leader of North Korea.

Pyongyang has repeatedly made clear that it will not unilaterally give up its nuclear weapons programme, seeing it as a crucial piece of North Korea’s defences, and questions remain about what any kind of agreement between Mr Trump and Mr Kim would look like, given the difficulty in reconciling the two positions.

Having said that sanctions against North Korea will only be lifted with denuclearisation, Mr Trump has promised to provide “protections” for Mr Kim and his government in return for him giving up the nuclear programme.

He also indicated that South Korea, China and Japan would be prepared to invest in the North to boost its besieged economy, with some form of sanctions relief likely to be one of the things Mr Kim would seek.

Most of the answers to questions surrounding the summit will only be answered once the content of the meeting becomes clear, for now the international community is relying on Mr Trump’s positivity.

“So far, so good. We're going to have to see what happens,” the president said at the G7. “I very much look forward to it.”

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