iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — President Donald Trump is preparing for his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, he said on Monday while meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
While critics have warned against holding another meeting when North Korea has taken no meaningful steps toward dismantling its nuclear arsenal, Trump had nothing but praise for Kim, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the potential sit-down as something of "enormous value" but only "if we can continue to make progress and have conversations."
Trump said that the meeting would happen "in the not too distant future," not in Singapore but a "location to be determined." He added that Kim had shown "tremendous enthusiasm … toward making a deal" and praised their relationship as "very good. In fact, in some ways it's extraordinary."
"We are in no rush. There's no hurry. … We've made more progress than anybody's made ever, frankly, with regard to North Korea," he added.
But that kind of talk has negatively impacted the push to have North Korea denuclearize, according to diplomats and experts. By praising Kim and saying there is no rush while North Korea has taken no concrete steps to dismantle its nuclear-weapons program, he takes the pressure off North Korea.
That's why the North Koreans "want to go right to President Trump," according to Michael Green, senior director for Asia on George W. Bush's National Security Council, "because they want to try to get big symbolic agreements like a peace declaration without any details on dismantling nuclear weapons."
Green, now a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, added that the regime wants to skip meetings with Pompeo the U.S. would prefer to have first.
Still, Pompeo said Monday he will head to Pyongyang soon for those conversations, which need to happen to see if the two sides are to be on the same page, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told ABC News on Sunday.
"When the president meets with North Koreans," she said, "that's in itself a bonus … so until we find out a little bit more, the president won't be meeting with them."
Pompeo declined to give details on when he would travel beyond, "Lord willing, I will be traveling before the end of the year."
To prepare for that trip, Pompeo offered to meet with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho this week at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, but the North Koreans have still not accepted that meeting.
Still, Kim remains committed to denuclearization, according to Moon, who said he would debrief Trump on his own meetings with the North Korean dictator just last week.
"North Korea's decision to relinquish its nuclear program has been officialized to a degree that not even those within North Korea can reverse," he added.
But talks have been stuck in a deadlock over the sequencing, with the U.S. insistent that it will make no more concessions until North Korea denuclearizes — although it's unclear how far along that process it will have to be before the U.S. responds. North Korea wants some actions, like signing a declaration to formally end the Korean War, first.
Pompeo muddied those waters on Sunday, implying that a declaration may not be a concession and that the U.S. would agree to one: "Everybody's got their own idea of what a concession might be," he told Fox News.
What was a concession, he made clear Monday, and one the U.S. won't make, is sanctions relief.
But experts have warned against a peace declaration for the potential "domino effect" it could have, leading to "prematurely signing a peace treaty, reducing U.S. deterrence and defense capabilities, and abrogating the mutual defense treaty" between the U.S. and South Korea, according to Bruce Klingner, former CIA deputy division chief for Korea and now a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
Klingner has warned that Kim's flattery of Trump and Trump's appreciation of it are getting in the way of the need for real progress.
But Moon continued to pour on that adulation during his meeting with Trump, telling him, according to a translator, "Chairman Kim also repeatedly conveyed his unwavering trust and expectations for you, while expressing his hope to meet you soon to swiftly complete a denuclearization process with you because you are indeed the only person who can solve this problem."
Moon's meetings in Pyongyang last week resulted in a joint declaration that he and Kim signed, committing to shutting down a missile-engine test site with inspectors present and offering to take other steps towards denuclearization, such as shutting down its main nuclear site at Yongbyon, but only if the U.S. takes "corresponding measures."
It was enough to revive this peace process, but much less than the North Koreans have committed to in previous negotiations. It's also still unclear what corresponding measures the U.S. would be willing to take.
"The North Koreans have agreed to shut down, with inspectors, these two old facilities that we can see from satellite, but have not put on the table the most dangerous weapons they're developing, which were the cause of this crisis in the first place," said Green, comparing it to finally offering to sell the U.S. their Dodge Dart and Ford pickup after 30 years, now on cinder blocks, and still at a high price — while hiding a Lexus and BMW in the garage.
The question becomes, should Pompeo and his team pursue that "sale" to keep talks alive, or do they stay focused on their original ask?
The U.S. has been asking North Korea to provide detailed information about its nuclear arsenal and facilities, but the North has refused to even discuss it, multiple sources told ABC News.
After Pompeo's last visit to Pyongyang in July, North Korea released a blistering statement about the U.S.'s "gangster-like demands," but a top North Korean official wrote later in its state newspaper that it was the U.S. team's demands on "suspect North Korea's secret nuclear facilities, a fiction" that really "derailed dialogue."
The following month, as Pompeo prepared to return to North Korea for more talks, the U.S. received a letter that warned the American team not to get on a plane if the delegation again would not stop with its "gangster-like demands." Trump canceled Pompeo's trip the next day.
But now, even though little seems to have changed in each side's position, the administration is moving full-steam ahead with plans for two meetings — Pompeo's in Pyongyang and Trump's with Kim.
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