1. How have previous US presidents dealt with North Korea?

President Clinton was the last president before Trump to come close to meeting the leader of North Korea. In October 2000, Clinton dispatched his secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, to meet then-leader Kim Jong-Il in an attempt to suspend North Korean missile tests. But the lack of progress on an agreement as well as the contentious results of the 2000 presidential election meant that Clinton decided not to accept an invitation to visit Pyongyang in the end.

President Bush described North Korea as a member of the ‘Axis of Evil’ in his 2002 State of the Union speech, which dramatically frustrated relations. The relationship was worsened further by North Korea’s admission that it had been conducting a secret nuclear weapons development programme for several years. Bush’s administration later engaged with North Korea as part of the ‘Six-Party’ talks — which also included China, Russia, Japan and South Korea — although little progress was made.

President Obama chose not to engage with North Korea, stating that ‘we’re not going to reward provocative behaviour’. Former presidents Clinton and Carter also visited North Korea during Obama’s tenure to persuade the regime to release imprisoned Americans but Trump will be the first sitting American president to meet with the leadership of the DPRK.

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Former North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Il, (L) toasts former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, at a dinner in Pyongyang on 24 October 2000. Photo: Getty Images.
Former North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Il, (L) toasts former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, at a dinner in Pyongyang on 24 October 2000. Photo: Getty Images.

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2. What has President Trump said about the summit?

Donald Trump has attempted to lower expectations in the lead-up to the summit, describing his meeting with Kim Jong-Un as ‘hopefully…the start of something big’. Trump stated that the summit would be the beginning of ‘a process’, and emphasised that ‘we’re not going to go in and sign something on June 12th and we never were’, instead suggesting it would be a ‘getting-to-know-you meeting’ as ‘you’re talking about years of hostility; years of problems; years of, really, hatred between so many different nations’. When asked how the North Koreans would approach the issue of denuclearization, the president responded, ‘I know they want to do that.’.

Trump has in particular noted that he believes North Korea is intent on its economic development, as he stated that ‘they want to develop as a country’ and ‘North Korea has brilliant potential and will be a great economic and financial nation one day’.

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President Donald Trump speaks about the cancelled summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un during a bill signing ceremony in Washington DC. Photo: Getty Images.
President Donald Trump speaks about the cancelled summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un during a bill signing ceremony in Washington DC. Photo: Getty Images.

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3. What are the US sanctions on North Korea?

The UN Security Council has passed nine rounds of sanctions against North Korea since its first nuclear test in October 2006. On top of this, the US has also imposed unilateral sanctions on North Korea.

The Trump administration has taken a ‘maximum pressure’ policy approach towards North Korea, with strong sanctions as one of the primary points of leverage. On 21 September 2017, Trump signed an executive order that enabled the US Department of Treasury to introduce sanctions on individuals and companies that engage in business with North Korea and pressured ‘foreign financial institutions [to]… choose to do business with the United States or with North Korea.’ Multiple rounds of US sanctions followed in short order. In November 2017, the US placed sanctions on North Korean and Chinese ‘shipping and transportation companies, and their vessels, that facilitate North Korea’s …deceptive manoeuvres.’ A month later, the US sanctioned two North Korean officials for their involvement in the country’s ballistic missile programme.

Finally, after it was discovered that North Korea engaged in ship-to-ship oil transfers with Hong Kong, Trump announced sanctions against the North Korean regime to shut down oil imports and coal exports. Trump has since stated that ‘I don’t even want to use the term ‘maximum pressure’ anymore because…we’re getting along’. Pending the outcome of the upcoming summit, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis confirmed that the US will keep existing sanctions in place and only consider removing sanctions if North Korea takes ‘verifiable and irreversible steps to denuclearization’.

US companies could benefit from opportunities to invest in North Korean infrastructure and agriculture. But as North Korea is a wildcard, business interests are so far still muted. Some commentators say that the major concern for American companies at the moment is whether those that have developed joint ventures in China could become ensnared in violating any North Korea sanctions as China accounts for 90 per cent of North Korea’s trade.

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Buildings can be seen in Hyesan, North Korea from Changbai, Jilin province, China on 6 Tuesday March 2018. Photo: Getty Images.
Buildings can be seen in Hyesan, North Korea from Changbai, Jilin province, China on 6 Tuesday March 2018. Photo: Getty Images.

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4. What are the Trump administration’s aims going into the summit?

The Trump administration had previously stated that their primary aim heading into the 12 June summit was the denuclearization of North Korea. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has described this as ‘a rapid denuclearization, total and complete, that won’t be extended over time’. However, the president has walked back this model allowing room for negotiation, instead stating that ‘it would certainly be better if [the denuclearization process] were all in one. Does it have to be? I don’t think I want to totally commit myself’, as he argued that the size of the North Korean programme meant a phased dismantling was more feasible.

The United States and North Korea have not agreed a shared definition of denuclearization. Mattis has indicated that ridding the entire Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons is not under consideration. For the US government, denuclearization’ simply means a nuclear weapons-free North Korea’.

Any deal that is agreed and which includes sanctions-relief must be passed by the US Congress. In the Senate, members of both parties would be needed to pass legislation. The Democrats, who are a narrow minority but could still block such legislation, are setting their own red lines, extending to chemical and biological weapons programmes as well. The politics in Washington will complicate the negotiations and set up battle lines in the event that the summit does not produce a result.

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US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Kim Yong Chol, former North Korean military intelligence chief, and one of leader Kim Jong-Un’s closest aides in Washington on 1 June 2018. Both Trump and Kim Yong Chol are trying to salvage the historic summit between the US and North Korea. Photo: Getty Images.
US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Kim Yong Chol, former North Korean military intelligence chief, and one of leader Kim Jong-Un’s closest aides in Washington on 1 June 2018. Both Trump and Kim Yong Chol are trying to salvage the historic summit between the US and North Korea. Photo: Getty Images.

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5. What are some of the potential outcomes?

So far, the specific aims — beyond complete denuclearization — of the summit are unclear. This means that there is much uncertainty about the potential outcomes. The extent to which Kim Jong-Un commits, if at all, to an official declaration outlining a denuclearization process will be important — although the significance of this will depend on the provision of details and a timetable. Based on the US president’s statements, it is likely that any agreement would include further summits, potentially with other interested parties such as South Korea, China and Japan. President Trump has also raised the prospect of a formal peace agreement at the Singapore summit which would end the Korean War, although this would require China’s inclusion as it was a signatory on the original 1953 armistice agreement.

Congress would also likely want to play a significant role in the formation of any agreement with North Korea. One key issue is what kind of inspections regime a deal would include. Senate Democrats have released demands for any prospective deal, while some Republicans have also pushed for congressional oversight over any agreement with North Korea.

Many experts are sceptical that North Korea will agree to eliminate its nuclear weapons programme and suggest that talks should instead focus efforts on halting further nuclear and missile tests.

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South Korea’s missile system fires a missile into the East Sea during a drill aimed to counter North Korea’s missile fires on 15 September 2017 in East Coast, South Korea. North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan just days after the UN Security Council adopted new sanctions against the regime over its sixth nuclear test. Photo: Getty Images.
South Korea’s missile system fires a missile into the East Sea during a drill aimed to counter North Korea’s missile fires on 15 September 2017 in East Coast, South Korea. North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan just days after the UN Security Council adopted new sanctions against the regime over its sixth nuclear test. Photo: Getty Images.