Factsheet: Singapore Summit

The fourth in a series on the North Korea nuclear crisis

On June 12, 2018, US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will hold an historic summit in Singapore. The summit, first announced in March, was temporarily canceled by Trump after North Korea criticized US insistence on the “Libya model.” Despite these setbacks, the United States, North Korea, and South Korea proceeded with a series of diplomatic meetings that have helped to set realistic conditions for the summit. 


An Historic First Step. Breaking with tradition, this high-level summit marks the start of talks instead of the culmination of negotiations. As such, it is likely that both sides will agree to a set of principles that outline the contours of an agreement going forward. The following issues are expected to be included:

  • Denuclearization. Kim Jong-un has expressed a willingness to denuclearize, but questions about his sincerity and expectations about the process and trade-offs remain. Unlike prior negotiations, however, this summit offers an unprecedented opportunity to discuss the prospects for denuclearization, including concessions on the US-side, at the highest level. 
  • Security assurances. North Korea has long asserted that its nuclear weapons are a necessary deterrent against the United States. As former Secretary of Defense William Perry said, “If I learned anything dealing with [North Koreans], it’s that their security is pre-eminent. They know we have the capability to defeat them, and they believe we have the intent to do so.” Credible security assurances may come in the form of a non-aggression pact or a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War. 
  • Economic benefits. The Trump administration has floated the promise of economic aid and investment as one incentive for North Korea to denuclearize, possibly in response to Kim Jong Un’s pivot to focus on the economy as part of his “byungjin” (or dual-track nuclear weapons and economic development) policy.

A Down Payment. The Trump administration has insisted on achieving a deal with North Korea where past US administrations have failed. Officials such as Acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton have suggested that the North could “front-load” a major concession-- such as relinquishing a handful of nuclear weapons or missiles-- as one way to test Kim Jong-un’s sincerity to denuclearize. 

A Non-Summit or "Blown Up" Summit. Given the unpredictable track records of President Trump and Kim Jong Un, it is still possible that the summit will not occur -- or even the summit abruptly ends in acrimony. If there is little appetite for rescheduling talks, the challenge for both sides will be to resist the hostilities and military threats of the previous year. However, this scenario is unlikely given that the U.S., North Korea, China and South Korea very much want the summit to be viewed as a success.

The Lead Up

March 9, 2018 President Trump agrees to meet with Kim Jong Un.
March 13, 2018 President Trump ousts Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
April 1, 2018 CIA Director Pompeo secretly meets Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang.
April 26, 2018 The Senate confirms Pompeo to be Secretary of State.
April 27, 2018 South Korean President Moon and Kim Jong Un hold their first inter-Korean summit.
April 29, 2018 National Security Advisor John Bolton discusses Libya as a model for North Korean denuclearization on CBS.
May 10, 2018 Secretary of State Pompeo secures the release of three US detainees in North Korea.
May 15, 2018 North Korea cancels high-level talks with South Korea over the joint US-ROK "Max Thunder" military exercise; North Korean official Kim Kye Gwan issues a statement rejecting the “Libya mode of nuclear abandonment,” citing John Bolton.
May 22, 2018 President Trump and South Korean President Moon hold a summit at the White House.
May 24, 2018 North Korean official Choe Sun Hui issues a statement criticizing Vice President Pence’s remarks “that North Korea might end up like Libya;" North Korea demolishes its Punggye-ri nuclear test site; President Trump cancels the summit in a letter to Kim Jong Un.
May 26, 2018 South Korean President Moon and Kim Jong Un hold a second emergency inter-Korean summit.
June 1, 2018 North Korea’s top envoy Kim Yong Chol visits the White House with a letter from Kim Jong Un. President Trump says the summit is back on.


For additional information on the latest US-North Korea developments, check out these resources:

Contact: Catherine Killough, ckillough@ploughshares.org