President Donald Trump will hold a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to try to broker a deal to coax the North to give up its nuclear weapons, the White House announced Friday.
News of a second meeting with the reclusive North Korean leader came after Trump's 90-minute meeting in the Oval Office with a North Korean envoy, Kim Yong Chol, who traveled to Washington to discuss denuclearization talks. Trump and Kim Jong Un are to meet near the end of February at a place to be announced later, said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
"The United States is going to continue to keep pressure and sanctions on North Korea until we see fully and verified denuclearization," Sanders said. "We've had very good steps and good faith from the North Koreans in releasing the hostages and other moves. And so we're going to continue those conversations and the president looks forward to the next meeting."
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In May, North Korea released three American detainees and sent them home with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after his meeting with the North Korean leader in Pyongyang.
The second summit signals stepped-up efforts by both countries to continue talks. Trump has exchanged letters with the North Korean leader amid little tangible progress on the vague denuclearization agreement reached at their first meeting last June in Singapore.
On Friday, Pompeo met with the North Korean envoy at a Washington hotel before the White House meeting, and the two had lunch together afterward.
Trump has spoken several times of having a second summit early this year. Vietnam has been considered as a possible summit venue, along with Thailand, Hawaii and Singapore.
Since their Singapore sit-down in June, several private analysts have published reports detailing continuing North Korean development of nuclear and missile technology. A planned meeting between Pompeo and the envoy, who is North Korea's former spy chief, in New York last November was abruptly canceled. U.S. officials said at the time that North Korea had called off the session.
The special U.S. envoy for North Korea negotiations, Steve Biegun, is set to travel to Sweden for further talks over the weekend.
The talks have stalled over North Korea's refusal to provide a detailed accounting of its nuclear and missile facilities that would be used by inspectors to verify any deal to dismantle them. The North also has demanded that the U.S. end harsh economic penalties and provide security guarantees before it takes any steps beyond its initial suspension of nuclear and missile tests.
Harry Kazianis, a North Korea expert at the Center for National Interest, said any talks between the two nations are a positive development, but the hard work of negotiating an agreement has only begun.
"Both nations must now show at least some tangible benefits from their diplomatic efforts during a second summit, or risk their efforts being panned as nothing more than reality TV," Kazianis said.
As a possible first step, Kazianis said, North Korea could agree to close its nuclear centrifuge facility at Yongbyon in exchange for some relief from U.S. sanctions or a peace declaration ending the Korean War. The three-year war between North and South Korea ended in 1953 with an armistice, not a peace treaty.
"Such a deal allows both sides to come away with a much-needed win that can breathe new life into negotiations," he said.
Kim expressed frustration in an annual New Year's address over the lack of progress in negotiations. But on a visit to Beijing last week, he said North Korea would pursue a second summit "to achieve results that will be welcomed by the international community," according to China's official Xinhua News Agency.
Kim's latest trip to China, his fourth since last year, came as the North's strongest ally has encouraged negotiations with the U.S. while at the same time arguing in favor of an immediate easing of sanctions.
The U.S. and North Korea seemed close to war at points during 2017. The North staged a series of weapons tests that brought it closer to its nuclear goal of one day being able to target anywhere on the U.S. mainland. The two sides then turned to insulting each other: Trump called Kim "Little Rocket Man" and North Korea said Trump was a "dotard."
Independent analysts are highly skeptical that North Korea will easily abandon a nuclear arsenal constructed in the face of deep poverty and probably seen by Kim as his only guarantee of his government's survival. But Retired Gen. Vincent Brooks, former U.S. commander of American and allied forces in South Korea, told "PBS Newshour" that he believes Kim is serious about getting rid of his nuclear weapons.
"I do. I think that the dance is going to be very important here, though, as we think about how we go from where we were to where we all want to be," Brooks said. "First, we ought to take him (Kim) at his word. And it's not an easy thing to accept, especially given the track record of North Korea.
"But this is a new leader in North Korea ... and, indeed, there's evidence that he's serious about committing to what he said. For example, we've now gone 415 days without a strategic provocation, test or demonstration. I think that's a signal by itself that Kim Jong Un has moved in a different direction."