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What’s the U.S. strategy behind Trump’s second summit with Kim Jong Un?

President Trump touted in his State of the Union address on Tuesday his efforts to improve U.S.-North Korean relations in order to persuade that country to abandon its nuclear weapons, and announced that he would meet leader Kim Jong Un for a second summit at the end of February. Nick Schifrin joins Judy Woodruff to offer an update on the state of play between the two nations.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Another major initiative of President Trump is improving U.S.-North Korean relations in order to get that isolated communist country to give up its nuclear weapons.

    The president met North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, this past summer. Last night, Mr. Trump announced that he'd meet Mr. Kim for a second time at the end of this month.

    What's on the agenda for this next meeting, and what's the state of play of diplomacy between the two countries?

    We turn to foreign affairs correspondent Nick Schifrin.

    So, hello, Nick.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Hi, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The president said it's going to be in Vietnam the end of February. Why Vietnam?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    First of all, logistics. North Korea can get there and has an embassy in Vietnam.

    Number two, North Korea and the United States have relatively good relations with Vietnam. Number three, for the U.S., Vietnam is a model. It's a communist country that has opened up economically, diplomatically, and has become much richer for that. So the U.S. wants North Korea to consider that model.

    And, fourth, for the U.S., it's a good talking point. The U.S. likes to tell the North Koreans that the U.S. has no permanent enemies. What better place to do that than Vietnam? Of course, it's not a perfect example. Vietnam beat the United States in a war. And, of course, North Korea took over a U.S.-backed South Korea. So it's not a perfect model.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So is there — what's the U.S. administration approach going into these talks?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    We have talked to a lot of analysts, and most of them say there is actually a fundamentally different approach than there has been in the past.

    And that is that the U.S. sees North Korea as having a place in the future of Northeast Asia. And that's just not something the U.S. had made so explicit in the past.

    So let's listen to Steve Biegun. He's the top U.S. negotiator in North Korea. He was talking last week, and he just used a different tone than the U.S. has really talked about North Korea in the past. And he started by mentioning the desire to end the Korean War, which ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

  • Steve Biegun:

    President Trump is ready to end this war. It is over. It is done. We are not going to invade North Korea. We are not seeking to topple the North Korean regime.

    We need to advance our diplomacy, alongside our plans for denuclearization, in a manner that sends that message clearly to North Korea as well. We are ready for a different future.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    : Ready for a different future. The Trump administration sees this as a moment of opportunity.

    President Trump in the past has said the threat from North Korea is over. He's tempered that, but the Trump administration has been very optimistic. Critics really fear, many of them from the right, by the way, that the president shouldn't go into this summit so quickly, and should instead let people like Biegun negotiate the details, and wait.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, let me ask you about the details.

    Up until now, both sides have been saying to the other one, you go first. How did the U.S. get past that in just their thinking on the sequence of this taking place?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Right, the sequence has been vital. And the two sides have been far apart. And now they're not. The U.S. really has shifted in this.

    So, in the past, the U.S. has said denuclearization first — sorry — denuclearization first, and then we can talk about sanctions relief. The North Koreans said, wait a minute, we need to do this step by step. We take a step, you take a step, and then eventually we will get to the end together.

    And Biegun last week really endorsed the North Korean model, and he said there could be progress on denuclearization, the ending of the war, improving of relations, step by step.

  • Steve Biegun:

    If we're doing the right thing with each other in relations, it makes it easier to do the right thing with each other on nuclear weapons.

    And if we're doing the right thing on nuclear weapons, it makes it a lot more conceivable that there would be a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And what the U.S. is hoping to do is create a road map for those steps.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, one of the other sticking points has been the U.S. asking for a list of the program — nuclear and missile programs that the North Koreans have. Tell us where that stands.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yet another sign that the U.S. is moving toward the North Korean position.

    So, in the past, the U.S. said that you have to give us your complete list of nuclear and missile programs. The North Koreans said, thanks, but no thanks. That's like giving you a targeting list.

    Instead, Biegun said last week that there needs to be a complete list, but it can be at the end of the process.

  • Steve Biegun:

    Before the process of denuclearization can be final, we must also have a complete understanding of the full extent of the North Korean weapons of mass destruction missile programs. We will get that at some point through a comprehensive declaration.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    We will get there at some point. That is a real shift. And, of course, critics say that this is like a watering down of the U.S. demands.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, what you have been describing is how the U.S. has given in, has made concessions.

    What are they expecting from the North Koreans?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    U.S. officials are actually very specific about what they want.

    Number one, they're looking for a road map, a road map for future negotiations and declarations. Number two, they're looking for what they're calling a shared understanding of the desired outcomes. Basically, what does peace look like? What does denuclearization look like?

    And, number three, they're looking for what they're calling concrete deliverables. Now, what does that mean? That could be inspectors that would verify the closure of missile and nuclear testing sites. It could mean the end of nuclear fuel production from the North Korean side.

    It could also be progress to end the Korean War. What does North Korea want? At the top of their list is sanctions relief. And what Biegun is doing now, he's in North Korea. He's going to set the framework for these negotiations.

    Critics fear that he's not going to make enough progress and that President Trump will go into this summit without much progress and give too much away, basically, perhaps even lower the number of troops in South Korea.

    But I have to say, Judy, the pro-engagement analysts who we talk to, as one of them put it, say, this is the greatest opportunity that they have seen for progress in their lives.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's fascinating that it finally appears to be about to take place.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Absolutely. And this summit is set.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, thank you very much, Nick Schifrin.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thank you.

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