Summit a rarity: Details not hammered out beforehand
Trump team sees value in upending usual model
WASHINGTON – President Trump and Kim Jong Un are prepping for a summit with the usual order of operations reversed: First the leaders meet, then aides try to work out the hard details of a complex agreement.
It’s one of many unusual aspects of a unique summit that Trump announced out of the blue in early March, canceled in late May after North Korean criticism and then rescheduled June 1.
“We’re forgetting how weird all this is,” said Thomas Wright, a senior fellow with the Washington-based Brookings Institution.
Trump granted Kim the prestige of a major summit without extracting meaningful concessions regarding the elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, analysts said.
And while most summits are tightly scripted in advance, the Trump-Kim agenda remains in flux, they said. It could come to include U.S. concessions on sanctions toward North Korea, the commitment of American troops to South Korea and the prospects of a peace treaty between the two Koreas.
“They’re kind of circumventing the usual diplomatic model,” said Abigail Grace, research associate with the AsiaPacific Security Program at the Center for New American Security.
Trump administration officials are happy to say their approach is unusual.
It fits the former businessman’s negotiating style, officials said, and previous, more traditional diplomatic efforts did not get the North Koreans to give up the pursuit of nuclear weapons.
“The approach that President Trump is taking is fundamentally different,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. “In the past, there have been months and months of detailed negotiations, and it got nowhere. This has already driven us to a place we’ve not been able to achieve before.”
Trump himself said “one-week preparations” for a big event simply “don’t work,” and his life experience makes him ready to deal with North Korea.
“I’ve been preparing for this all my life,” Trump told reporters Friday as he left for the G-7 summit in Canada, en route to Singapore for the Kim meeting Tuesday morning.
Pompeo noted that negotiators have been discussing the meeting agenda for weeks at meetings in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea.
Having met with Kim twice, Pompeo said that “he’s prepared to denuclearize,” and the North Koreans have shown good faith by returning U.S. hostages and destroying a few weapons test sites.
Analysts said North Korea hasn’t given up anything meaningful and has not provided its own definition of denuclearization.
Ryan Hass, a foreign policy fellow with the Brookings Institution, said he thinks “the key question” will be, “How much precision are both leaders prepared to apply to the aspirations?”
There have been hastily prepared summits before.
Less than five months after his 1961 inauguration, a less-than-prepared President Kennedy traveled to Vienna to meet Nikita Khrushchev. The veteran Soviet leader rhetorically bludgeoned the young president, and the leaders failed to find common ground.
During a largely thrown-together summit in Iceland in 1986, President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev suddenly found themselves discussing the abolition of nuclear weapons, to the horror of some of their advisers. That summit fell apart when Gorbachev demanded the end to Reagan’s plan for a missile defense system known as “Star Wars.”
In the months that followed, aides began work on an arms control treaty that Reagan and Gorbachev signed at a more traditional summit in 1987.
That’s the way it usually works: Aides will spend months negotiating the details and getting the documents ready, and only then will the leaders call a summit to sign documents and pose for photos.
President Trump boards Air Force One on Saturday in Canada. His next stop: Singapore, to meet with the North Korean leader.