Following a dizzying on-again, off-again week of no-shows, cancellation threats, high-level summitry, and dramatic announcements, a glide path is emerging in the direction of the Trump-Kim summit to be held on June 12. Since there may yet be twists and turns in the coming weeks and the roller coaster ride has focused more on logistics than substance, it is important to step back and review the chronology of developments during the past week.
Chronological Review of Major Developments in Preparation for the June 12 Summit
At a May 22 summit meeting between Donald Trump and Moon Jae-in at the White House, the South Korean and the American leaders discussed preparations for the U.S.-North Korea summit to be held in Singapore. In press availability prior to the Trump-Moon summit, President Trump suggested flexibility on a phased versus all-in-one approach to denuclearization while expressing his strong preference for an all-in-one approach and cast doubt on China’s intentions based on an apparent change in direction by North Korea following the surprise summit meeting held in Dalian only a week earlier between Xi Jinping and Kim Jong Un.
On May 23, North Korean Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Choe Son-hui released a statement complaining about Vice President Mike Pence’s “unbridled and impudent remarks that North Korea might end like Libya” and stated that “whether the U.S. will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behavior of the United States.”
On May 24, President Trump released a letter announcing cancellation of the Singapore summit in response to the “tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in [Vice Minister Choe’s] most recent statement.” However, President Trump also indicated a willingness to come back to talks if the North Koreans showed an interest in resuming contact. Back in Seoul following his whirlwind trip to the United States, Moon convened his national security council and announced his perplexity regarding recent developments. The summit cancellation coincided with North Korea’s detonation of several entrances to their nuclear test site at Pungye-ri, witnessed by international journalists.
On May 25, North Korea Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Kim Kye-gwan issued a statement expressing “our willingness to sit down face-to-face with the U.S. and resolve issues anytime and in any format.” President Trump responded with verbal remarks and tweets suggesting that the summit preparations could still happen in time for a June 12 meeting in Singapore. At a press briefing in Washington, a presidential spokesman briefed that the North Koreans had stood up a high-level American delegation that had traveled to Singapore to negotiate logistical matters in advance of the U.S.-North Korea summit and had not kept pledges regarding allowing experts to travel with journalists to witness the closing of the North Korean nuclear test site at Pungye-ri, but Trump disavowed the statement as fake news in a tweet.
On May 26, apparently at the request of the North Koreans, Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un met for the second time at Panmunjom, this time on the northern side and in secret. The meeting was announced following its conclusion, and President Moon announced a press conference for 10 am the following day to discuss the results.
On May 27, President Moon announced that Kim Jong Un had confirmed his commitment to complete denuclearization but showed distrust in U.S. pledges of regime assurances in their Panmunjom meeting. The two Koreas committed to resumption of high-level ministerial meetings scheduled for June 1 and to the resumption of inter-Korean Red Cross meetings. President Trump expressed his approval of these developments and mentioned that preparatory contacts had resumed. Subsequently, it was reported that a U.S. delegation led by former six party negotiator and current U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, Sung Kim, was holding preparatory meetings for the summit on the northern side of the border at Panmunjom. In addition, a delegation led by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin is meeting with North Korean counterparts in Singapore to discuss protocol for the summit.
On May 29, reports broke and were subsequently confirmed via President Trump’s tweet that North Korea’s Vice Chairman Kim Yong Chol is traveling to New York for additional talks with the United States. General Kim is a senior military official in charge of inter-Korean dialogue and former head of the Reconnaissance General Bureau who attended the closing ceremonies of the Pyeongchang Olympics and both inter-Korean summits between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un.
If the Trump-Kim Singapore summit is to be successful, much remains to be done during the next two weeks to close the decades-long gap over the pace, price, and process of denuclearization between the two sides.