President Donald Trump is expected to demand that Pyongyang abolish its nuclear weapons capability within a year when he sits down for talks with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator, but will offer to open an embassy in the North’s capital and provide humanitarian assistance as an incentive.
The details offer a sense of the rapid pace of progress towards talks although analysts suggest the timetable may be overambitious.
Quoting sources in Washington, South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper said Mr Trump rejected Pyongyang’s proposals for “phased and synchronised” steps to eliminate the North’s nuclear arsenal and will instead insist that full denuclearisation is completed within 12 months of their meeting.
The Dong-A Ilbo newspaper added that North Korea and the US have already started discussing an outline of the agenda for when their two leaders meet – Mr Trump has suggested the summit is likely to take place in May or early June – and that Washington is willing to “compensate” Pyongyang by boosting the regime’s standing by opening a liaison office and an embassy, as well as delivering humanitarian aid.
Analysts, however, say the time frame is “unrealistic”.
Daniel Pinkston, a professor of international relations at the Seoul campus of Troy University, said: “Complete denuclearisation will mean the North declaring all its nuclear facilities and programmes – military and civilian – and then having independent inspectors draw up inventories of everything they have.
“Exports will need to be accounted for, nuclear cooperation deals will need to be examined – such as for the nuclear reactor agreement with Syria – and there will then need to be full dismantling of all facilities in accordance with [International Atomic Energy Agency] guidelines."
Verification would add another level of complexity.
“That is not a trivial matter, as this comment seems to suggest, and it cannot be completed in that narrow a time frame," he said.
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At a meeting with governors at the White House on Thursday, Mr Trump predicted the his summit with Mr Kim would be “terrific” and praised China for helping to crack down on the regime through sanctions.
“Meetings are being set up right now between myself and Kim Jong-un,” he said.
“I think it will be terrific. I think we’ll go in with a lot of respect and we’ll see what happens, but China has really helped us at the border and we appreciate it."
Mr Trump’s optimistic prediction followed-high level meetings in Washington between John Bolton, his newly appointed national security adviser, and his South Korean and Japanese counterparts.
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South Korean media reported on Friday that US and North Korean officials, known to be communicating through intelligence back channels, are likely to agree on the summit venue and dates as early as next week.
Currently Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar is a hot favourite for the unprecedented event, but Pyongyang, the militarised border between North and South, Sweden, Geneva and Iceland have all been touted as possibilities.
A number of those venues may immediately be off the list, however, because there are questions over how Mr Kim would reach them.
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Mr Kim has three personal aircraft, although the most modern is an Ilyushin IL-62 that was built by the Soviet Union in the 1960s and all three jets have a habit of being out of operation due to a shortage of spare components.
Without the range to reliably reach Europe or North America – and fearful of being embarrassed by a breakdown – it is believed that Mr Kim will opt for a venue closer to home.
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