US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are talking about holding a summit in Singapore in June. What are the chances that the summit will occur, and what are the prospects for success even if it does? Here are some points that help explain circumstances surrounding this pivotal event.

Will Trump and Kim actually meet?

Washington and Pyongyang have not confirmed that Mr Trump and Mr Kim will meet on June 12, which was the plan before the US president last week cancelled the summit. But US and North Korean officials have since conducted frantic diplomacy— in Singapore, New York and the Demilitarised Zone between South and North Korea — to resurrect what would be the first meeting between a US president and a North Korean leader.

Why did Trump cancel the summit but then reverse course?

Mr Trump called off the summit after North Korean actions suggested that conditions were not right. After not responding to the US for days, Pyongyang warned about a nuclear “showdown”, prompting Mr Trump to write to Mr Kim to cancel the meeting. After North Korea responded in a moderate way to his letter, however, Mr Trump welcomed the “warm” response and told his diplomats to attempt to salvage the summit.

North Korea suggested the summit, so why jeopardise the event?

Experts are still debating that question. Did China convince Mr Kim to move more slowly? Was Mr Kim trying to mollify hardliners at home? Or was he responding to comments by US national security adviser John Bolton and vice-president Mike Pence who hinted that he might meet the same fate as Muammer Gaddafi, the former Libyan leader who was killed by western-backed rebels after dismantling his nuclear programme?

Who is Kim Yong Chol, the most senior North Korean official to visit the US in two decades?

Kim Yong Chol © AP

Kim Yong Chol, who flew to New York on Tuesday, is probably North Korea’s best-known official, after Kim Jong Un. He is a hardline military figure who previously headed the Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea’s spy agency. A top aide to Kim Jong Un, the 72-year-old general is known for his combative negotiating style and combustible nature. His arrival in the US marks the highest level North Korean visit to the US since 2000 when vice-marshal Jo Myong Rok met President Bill Clinton in the White House.

What is the significance of Kim Yong Chol visiting the US?

He is a close confidante of Kim Jong Un, which highlights the importance of his trip at what is a crucial juncture in the diplomatic discussions. His visit is an attempt by North Korea to build trust and enhance communications — issues that have beset US-North Korea relations. He is also a trusted nuclear negotiator who can discuss in detail what North Korea can and cannot put on the table in terms of negotiations toward denuclearisation. He will meet Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state.

What do Trump and Kim Jong Un want from the summit?

Mr Trump wants to secure an agreement to bolster his self-proclaimed reputation as a master dealmaker. His officials want to obtain what diplomats call CVID, or “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation” — a goal many experts believe will be hard to attain. It is unclear if Mr Trump wants a big-bang agreement, or would settle for a staggered arrangement where North Korea is rewarded at each stage.

A summit would give Kim Jong Un huge domestic prestige and solidify his standing — at least in domestic propaganda — as a great leader. He has suggested he wishes to pursue economic modernisation, so he is likely hoping that a summit will result in sanctions relief and investment. But he also wants a security guarantee from the US, without which there is no chance that he would abandon his nuclear weapons.

How do China, Japan and South Korea view the summit?

China, Japan and South Korea became nervous last year that the escalating rhetoric between Mr Trump and Mr Kim could spark a conflict — particularly as Mr Trump talked about unleashing “fire and fury” on North Korea. All three countries have welcomed the diplomatic push, although each has a different view on the summit.

While China wants lower tension on the peninsula, it is worried that Mr Kim might do a deal with Mr Trump that would have an impact on its own security. Mr Kim has travelled to China twice in recent months to meet President Xi Jinping.

Japan also wants to reduce the odds of North Korea using nuclear weapons, but is concerned that Mr Kim will play Mr Trump because of the US president’s desire to seal a quick deal. Tokyo also worries that a deal could reduce pressure on Pyongyang to account for dozens of Japanese abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.

South Korea has been the most vocal proponent of the summit. Given its proximity to the North, Seoul has the most to lose from any conflict and wishes to exhaust all diplomatic avenues. Moon Jae-in has made solving the long-running stand-off on the Korean peninsula a central plank of his presidency.

What are the odds that Trump and Kim will reach a deal?

Some experts are sceptical that Mr Kim will abandon his nuclear programme, but a few argue that the Swiss-educated leader wants his legacy to be economic modernisation, especially now that he has shown his people that North Korea has a nuclear arsenal with the theoretical capability to threaten the US.

It remains to be seen what Mr Trump can extract from the summit. Critics worry that he is unprepared and may be susceptible to what some describe as “buying the same horse twice” — meaning rewarding Pyongyang for actions that are later reversed. But proponents of his approach say past efforts to deal with North Korea have been futile, and that a leader-to-leader summit is a gamble worth taking.

Follow on Twitter: @dimi, @bryanhimself





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