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Trump-Kim Summit

Trump seen lowering expectations for summit with Kim Jong Un

US and North Korean aides in last-ditch talks to find common ground

Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump and members of his delegation, including National Security Advisor John Bolton attend lunch during a meeting in Singapore on June 11.   © Reuters

SINGAPORE -- U.S. and North Korean officials are trying to narrow differences over exactly what denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula would look like. The last-minute talks are taking place the day before U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are to sit down together for their historic summit.

Since saying the summit would go ahead as scheduled, the Trump administration has been trying to dial down expectations, emphasizing that denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula will be "a process" and cannot be accomplished at one summit.

Trump and Kim both arrived in Singapore on Sunday.

"There's a good chance it won't work out," Trump said before leaving Canada and heading straight to Singapore. "There's probably an even better chance it will take a period of time."

Trump also seemed to be encouraging Kim.

"I feel that Kim Jong Un wants to do something great for his people," he added.

Today, Trump held a working meeting with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and aides.

"We've got a very interesting meeting, in particular tomorrow, and I think things can work out very nicely," Trump said. He also thanked Lee for hosting the summit and said the decision to hold the event in the city-state was "made very consciously."

Trump added, "We appreciate your hospitality and professionalism and your friendship."

So far, little information is coming out of either side, or from any other country. Nam Kwan-pyo, a visiting senior national security official from South Korea's presidential office, said he is in the dark about what is happening. "I feel like a high school senior waiting to hear back from colleges regarding my admission applications," he said.

There is no telling how much -- or how little -- progress the American and North Korean negotiators are making.

Sung Kim, a veteran diplomat with years of experience in negotiating with North Korea, is leading the U.S. team. Choe Son Hui, North Korea's vice foreign minister who specializes in negotiating with the U.S., is his counterpart.

It was Choe who three weeks ago referred to comments made by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence as "ignorant and stupid." Days later, Trump would call off the summit, only to again change his mind about a week later.

Pence is not in Singapore, but John Bolton, who began the firestorm that Pence and Choe stepped into, is.

The last-ditch attempt to narrow differences illustrates the difficulty both sides are having in budging toward the other. Despite all of its talk about "denuclearizing," North Korea does not want to unilaterally give up its nuclear weapons. The only common ground between the sides is that both want to go home with a tangible success.

Earlier today, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted, "We remain committed to the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

Pompeo has been urging North Korea for action. On Thursday, he said, "We've got to make bold decisions." The remark appears to indicate that Washington has yet to convince Pyongyang to give up weaponry it has spent decades developing.

Few experts believe that Pyongyang is prepared to give up its nuclear arms. Yet many hope that the diplomatic engagement Trump has stepped into can give both sides time to do come up with some diplomatic solutions. At the very least, South Korea and other parties involved are eager for Trump and Kim to move away from the military rhetoric that the two men engaged in for much of last year.

It was March 8 when Trump agreed to meet with Kim, but pre-negotiations did not move into high gear until after April 27, when Kim met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone.

Those hasty preparations were then interrupted on May 24, when Trump decided to cancel his summit with Kim. He reversed that decision on June 1, leaving the negotiators with even less time to move forward.

During the hiatus, Kim addressed a letter to Trump that underscores the North Korean leader's willingness to meet but reluctance to give any ground on the nuclear issue. "It was really a very warm letter, a very nice letter," Trump said during a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on June 7. "And nothing other than: We look forward to seeing you, and we look forward to the summit, and hopefully something wonderful ... will work out."

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