Eight months ago, President Donald Trump said North Korea is “no longer a nuclear threat.” Since then, according to NBC News, North Korea has advanced both its nuclear weapons program and its ballistic missile program, and U.S. intelligence officials are doubtful that Kim Jong Un will agree to full denuclearization.
Trump's goal is an end to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, but Kim Jong Un does not seem to share his aspirations. The two leaders will meet this week in Vietnam for their second summit, and U.S. officials are concerned that Trump will give more to Kim than he will get in return.
“One of the worst possible outcomes is he makes some crazy deal pledging to withdraw U.S. troops for a vague promise of denuclearization,” said one former senior U.S. official.
The U.S. could incentivize North Korea with diplomatic interests sections in Pyongyang and Washington. Interests sections, which are bare-bones diplomatic outposts, would offer the beginnings of diplomatic relations between the countries.
The U.S. could also incentivize North Korea by offering to formally end the Korean war, although North Korea and the United Nations Command signed the Armistice Agreement in 1953. This would involve more negotiations about the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula.
Some senior administration officials worry that such concessions would amount to U.S. recognition of North Korea as a nuclear state, which would be made even worse if Trump does not get concessions from North Korea.
Last week, Trump said that withdrawing U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula is not “on the table” — but later he said “everything is on the table.”
In recent weeks researchers have found a secret ballistic missile base in North Korea. There are "as many as 20 undisclosed missile sites in the country." After Trump and Kim first met, North Korea has increased its production of fuel for nuclear weapons.
Though Trump seeks denuclearization, some U.S. officials believe Kim's end goal is to further legitimize himself by meeting again with the U.S. president.
"Kim already got one big photo op with President Trump, another one just reaffirms his standing on the world stage to every day North Koreans." one official told NBC News.