News - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

North Korea Experts Preview Second Trump-Kim Summit

Feb. 25, 2019

In advance of the Trump-Kim Summit in Hanoi February 27-28, Belfer Center experts offer a reality check on the negotiation over nuclear issues.


John Park– Director, Belfer Center Korea Project; Faculty Affiliate, Project on Managing the Atom

"Compared to the 'fire and fury' war threats of 2017, the recent exchange of letters between President Trump and Chairman Kim have laid the groundwork for a sequel to the Singapore Summit. Front-loading the dismantlement of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and back-loading denuclearization have created the momentum for exploring the easing of sanctions on North Korea over the course of a series of summits. Each leader has demonstrated his adeptness at devising a subjective definition of success. That sets the stage for a win-win at the next summit in Hanoi – and likely ones after it as well. North Korea embracing economic development and dismantling its legacy nuclear weapons program while retaining a minimal nuclear deterrent is the growing consensus view among the main players. That’s deemed to be acceptable by President Trump in the near term if Chairman Kim continues to keep the North Korean nuclear threat away from the American homeland via a moratorium on testing."


Graham Allison– Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Belfer Center

"We should ask: what matters more than something else that matters? In this case, the U.S. hierarchy of interests includes: no nuclear explosions on American soil, no North Korean capability to attack the US with nuclear weapons, and no second Korean War. All of these matter more than no North Korean nuclear weapons.

In 2017, North Korea stood on the threshold of a reliable capability to deliver nuclear warheads against the American homeland. Since then, it has stopped all ICBM and nuclear tests and has pledged to denuclearize. While North Korea is unlikely to zero out its nuclear arsenal, we are safer today than we were when Trump took office."


Tom Donilon– Senior Fellow, Belfer Center

"The President’s penchant for one on one personal diplomacy presents real risk to the national interest. No serious national security professional would recommend that President Trump meet with Kim one on one. As with the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, the public, Congress, and senior administration officials still do not have a complete understanding of what Trump and Kim discussed at Singapore. Given President Trump’s serious information and experiential deficit—he is the least prepared President for a detailed discussion of a path to denuclearization—the North Koreans would readily exploit a free-wheeling one on one session."


Gary Samore – Senior Fellow, Belfer Center Korea Project

"Hello from Seoul. The ROK government is hoping Trump will accept Kim Jung Un's proposal to "permanently dismantle" Yongbyon nuclear facilities in exchange for lifting sanctions on South-North Korean economic projects.  U.S. officials, however, are aiming for bigger nuclear concessions, but without offering bigger economic rewards in return.  As a result, the Hanoi summit is not likely to yield significant concrete results beyond symbolic measures (U.S. experts to visit the Punggye-ri nuclear test site) and commitment to negotiate a “big deal” in time for the third Trump-Kim summit later this year.  Of course, no one knows what Trump may do when he meets alone with Kim!"


Wendy Sherman– Senior Fellow, Belfer Center; Director, Center for Public Leadership

"As Secretary Pompeo said on the Sunday news shows, North Korea’s nuclear program remains a threat. Successful negotiations require courageous leadership that is disciplined and persistent. The minimal, and necessary outcome for the Trump-Kim Summit is a detailed negotiation outline and an agreed definition of denuclearization. Concrete steps would be next. If North Korea agrees to verifiably dismantle all Yongbyon facilities, commits to a detailed declaration of its nuclear and missile programs, guarantees return of remains, and engages in ongoing negotiations, the United States, in concert with our allies, might agree to open liaison offices, grant small waivers to the ROK to promote economic development, and define a process to declare an end to the Korean War. Special envoy Steve Biegun must continue a regular pace of negotiation. Congress must provide rigorous oversight. Photos ops, lovely letters and handshakes are no substitute for real progress toward complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization."


William Tobey – Senior Fellow, Belfer Center

"The ideal outcome of the upcoming US-DPRK Summit would be agreement on a comprehensive roadmap to the complete and verifiable elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. The likely outcome, however, may be far short of that; i.e. agreement on partial elimination of known facilities—leaving the North with its nuclear arsenal and much of its fissile material production capacity. Partial denuclearization is not denuclearization; it is an all or nothing proposition. If the Summit results in a declaration of the end of the Korean War, it will advance Pyongyang’s interests more than Washington’s, giving the North economic and political benefits. "


For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:North Korea Experts Preview Second Trump-Kim Summit.” News, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, February 25, 2019.