While speaking to reporters at a White House event on 19 February, President Donald Trump made clear that he wants North Korea to end its nuclear program. Shortly after, however, Trump added that he has “no pressing time schedule” for denuclearization. The only condition he imposed on North Korea was that it refrain from performing any nuclear tests, stating, “as long as there’s no testing, I’m in no rush.” These comments occur as Trump’s second meeting with Chairman Kim Jong-un and other political leaders on 27 February approaches. Discussing these summits, Trump added that the meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam would be “very exciting.” These comments have raised the question, will America retain tight economic sanctions on North Korea after Trump’s somewhat loose statements about the importance of denuclearization? Despite Trump’s personal agenda, Washington had planned to maintain economic sanctions until it receives verification of full denuclearization.
Further into the interview with reporters, Trump added that, “I look forward to being with Chairman Kim and I think a lot of things will come out of it.” South Korean President Moon Jae-in stated that he hoped the upcoming summit “will provide a ‘critical turning point’ to accomplish complete denuclearization, a peace regime on the peninsula and development of NK-US relations.” Reflecting on his first summit with Chairman Kim, Trump recounted: “We had a tremendous first summit… a lot of things came from that, including good relationships.” Though Trump may not have denuclearization on his agenda, he is still the first US president to meet with a North Korean leader.
Though Trump is the first US president who has agreed to have a formal meeting with a North Korean leader, that is not where the history of these relations begin. In 1994, when tensions between the two nations were on the rise, former President Jimmy Carter stepped in and constructed the 1994 Agreed Framework. Through this deal, North Korea had to dismantle its reactor in Yongbyon, used to make plutonium necessary for bombs, in order for them to receive two civilian light water nuclear power stations. These power stations were considered less of a threat. Though the deal lasted nine years, it came to an immediate end after the US learned that North Korea had been utilizing an alternative uranium method to make a bomb. Also in 1994, President Bill Clinton prepared for a possible war with North Korea to “prevent North Korea from developing a nuclear arsenal.” In 2002, under George W. Bush, Spanish troops directed by the US withheld missiles from North Korea that were on their way to Yemen, upsetting North Korean leaders who saw this as pirating. In addition to these incidents, two American journalists were detained in North Korea in 2009 while filming a documentary. In 2017, one American student was also detained after allegedly attempting to steal a propaganda flag. All of these events only furthered tensions between the two nations. In the political sphere, the two nations were not regarded as engaging in “good relationships” by any means.
Today, a positive relationship between the US and North Korea may be attainable, especially after the two leaders met in Singapore. During this meeting, Kim Jong-un promised to eliminate his country’s nuclear weapons program. Though this promise may be enough to satisfy President Trump, is it enough to satisfy the US? In Trump’s words, the next meeting will “be a very exciting couple of days.” This meeting in Vietnam could be exciting in completely different ways. Either North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sticks to his “promise,” or Donald Trump will have to come up with another promise to make to the American people regarding his stance on foreign policies.