In an apparent bid to manage expectations, the US president in recent days has said he is in “no rush” to achieve denuclearisation, seeking, instead, a continuation of Pyongyang’s pause on weapons testing.
On the North Korean side, an end to punishing international sanctions, along with a formal declaration that the 1950-1953 Korean War is over, are likely to be high on the priority list.
On the eve of the talks, Al Jazeera takes a look at what’s on the table in the US-North Korea summit 2.0
|The agreement struck in Singapore has produced few concrete results [File: Evan Vucci/AP Photo]|
How did we get here?
In June last year, Singapore hosted the first meeting between a US president and a North Korean leader.
The historic summit, which came after months of growing tensions marked by nuclear and missile tests, fresh sanctions and threats of “total destruction“, ended with a vague statement that has failed to produce tangible progress.
In Singapore, Kim and Trump outlined four commitments: establishing “new relations” for peace and prosperity; building a “lasting a stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula”; working “toward denuclearisation”; and recovering and repatriating the remains of soldiers killed during the Korean War.
However, the agreement did not explicitly define denuclearisation – leading to disagreements over what it means – nor it detail a specific timeline towards the destruction of North Korea’s nuclear weapons arsenal.
|Trump boarding Air Force One as he departs for Vietnam [Jim Young/Reuters]|
What does the US want?
As Trump has made clear, the US is seeking an assurance from North Korea that it will stop testing its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
It also wants Pyongyang to rid of all its weapons of mass destruction programmes, as well as produce a roadmap and concrete plan of action on how it sets about achieving that.
A recent report by Stanford University’s Centre for International Security and Cooperation said North Korea appears to have produced enough bomb fuel in the past year to add as many as seven nuclear weapons to its arsenal.
Stephen Biegun, Trump’s special envoy for North Korea, has reportedly said a “dozen” agenda items have been discussed on his recent trips to Pyongyang.
“The two sides may discuss denuclearisation but I’m predicting that Trump wants negotiations with North Korea to be a win domestically so he will shy away from concrete dates and expectations when it comes to the nuclear issue,” Ben Young, a North Korea analyst and historian, told Al Jazeera.
“I think they will try to nail down a peace treaty of some sort. That is a win-win for both sides,” he added.
While some US politicians and analysts have speculated Trump might agree to reduce the US military presence in South Korea – which totals around 28,500 soldiers – officials in Seoul and Washington have said troop levels are not up for negotiation.
“Patience with North Korea is not the worst option. Pressure on Pyongyang and forcing them into a corner with concrete dates in the very near future for denuclearisation may make North Korea feel bullied and subservient,” said Young.
“North Korea is fiercely prideful and takes it national dignity seriously. The last thing the Trump administration wants is a return to the days of ‘fire and fury‘.”
|Kim at the Dong Dang railway station, in Vietnam’s Chinese border [Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]|
What does North Korea want?
Apart from the easing of sanctions and a declaration formally ending the Korean War, North Korea is also calling for the relaunch of some inter-Korean economic projects and the opening of a US liaison office in Pyongyang, according to Biegun.
Hit by food shortages and burdened by US-led international sanctions over its nuclear programme, which have cut it off from most global trade, North Korea last year shifted its focus to economic development.
Kab-Woo Ko, a political science professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Pyongyang “needs to secure economic, political and diplomatic benefits from this summit”.
In the case an agreement to officially end the Korean War is reached in Hanoi, Ko said a close watch should be kept on which sides would eventually sign such a declaration.
“It will be interesting to watch whether the deal is made between US and North Korea only, or if it will include China,” he said.
The two Koreas are technically still at war as the hostilities stopped in 1953 with a truce signed by the US, representing United Nations forces, and the militaries of North Korea and China.
The armistice agreement – adhered to but not signed by South Korea, whose leaders at the time rejected the idea of a ceasefire that left the peninsula divided – fell short of a peace treaty that has governed the conflict ever since.
On Monday, a presidential spokesperson in Seoul said an end-of-war statement by just two – Pyongyang and Washington – would be enough, adding that the focus should be on leading “North Korea to denuclearisation smoothly through the declaration”.
“The South Korean government welcomes any form of end-of-war agreement if it plays a role to speed up denuclearisation.”
Historic year of inter-Korea relations sees drop in tensions (2:19)
What is the view in Seoul?
The talks in Hanoi follow a thaw in relations between North and South Korea last year, which saw Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae meeting three times.
During their summits, the two leaders agreed to a series of goodwill gestures, vowing to resume economic collaboration when possible and take steps to reduce military threats.
Just like Pyongyang, the inter-Korean economic projects are also sought after by Seoul, including the relaunch of operations at the jointly-run Kaesong Industrial Park which have been suspended for three years.
Located just inside North Korea across the demilitarised zone, the complex was launched in 2004 with the idea of South Korean companies manufacturing their products using North Korean labour, helping it improve its economy.
To win some of those concessions from Washington, North Korea could follow through on shutting its main Yongbyon nuclear complex, as well as abolish key missile facilities in the presence of foreign experts, South Korean officials have said.
“Moon has invested a lot of political and emotional capital in improving relations with the North,” Young said.
“The South Korean economy is having some issues at the moment so Moon could use improved North Korea-US relations as a mobilising force for improved domestic approval ratings.”
|Preparations for the talks in Hanoi are in full swing [Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters]|
What is the likely outcome of the talks?
Analysts do not anticipate the Hanoi summit to end with a deal that will see North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons, but have urged Washington to be open to taking interim steps for any agreement to be possible.
Despite hopes for a major breakthrough being slim, there are some expectations the talks could produce a declaration formally ending the Korean War.
For his part, Ko said he wanted to see North Korea “agree on a process to dismantle Yongbyon nuclear facility”.
That facility, according to Jeffrey Lewis, a scholar at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, is functional.
“It’s really business as usual at Yongbyon at the moment,” said Lewis. “People show up for work, and material comes in, and it looks pretty much like it’s looked for the last 10 or 15 years.”
Ko predicted that the talks in Hanoi would see the US give North Korea some benefits that it needed in the political, military and economic fronts, but warned against walking away from Hanoi in the same “hollow” manner as Singapore.
“The talk in Singapore was like ‘Sanggyeonnye’ in Korea – the first meeting between families of the bridge and the groom.
“Now, it’s time for the real plan.”
Additional reporting by Sookyoung Lee in Seoul