After months of making little headway following their first historic summit in Singapore last June, United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet again this week in Hanoi. Detractors have questioned whether there is justification for a second meeting so soon after the first, given the lack of progress in the denuclearisation process. Yet, it is because of the need to get things back on track that the two leaders are meeting again. They are hoping to put some momentum back into the process as both sides are frustrated at the impasse. The question is whether they can make a breakthrough and reach a deal that will move things forward.
That there is scepticism about what the second summit can achieve is understandable as there is a huge gulf between the two sides as to what is meant by denuclearisation and how it is to be achieved. In Singapore, North Korea committed to "work towards complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula". Its news agency KCNA, in an editorial last December, said this meant "removing all elements of nuclear threats from the areas of both the north and the south of Korea and also from surrounding areas from where the Korean peninsula is targeted". Pyongyang wants the end of the US nuclear umbrella for South Korea and Japan, as well as dismantling of its own nuclear programme. It also wants incremental steps towards denuclearisation that are reciprocated by the US, including some relief from sanctions and bilateral aid. The US, on the other hand, wants the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of North Korea before it will lift sanctions that are crippling the North's economy.