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White House Says There Will Be Another Summit With North Korea


President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will meet again. That's the word from the White House after a rare visit from North Korea's top negotiator. The administration says the summit will take place at the end of February. Officials are expecting to announce an exact date and place soon. Vietnam is reportedly one of the options. NPR's Michele Kelemen has this story.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: North Korea's Vice Chairman Kim Yong Chol had a lengthy sit-down with President Trump in the Oval Office lasting for about an hour and a half. And press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders sounded upbeat about the prospects for another summit between President Trump and North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: We've continued to make progress. We're continuing to have conversations. The United States is going to continue to keep pressure and sanctions on North Korea until we see fully and verified denuclearization.

KELEMEN: One North Korea watcher, Suzanne DiMaggio of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says President Trump seems to be looking for another win.

SUZANNE DIMAGGIO: Trump, I think, views his summit with Kim Jong Un as a high point of his presidency so far. But it's really a qualified win. Yes, tensions have been dramatically reduced, and the North Koreans haven't tested nuclear weapons or missiles for over a year. But there hasn't been any concrete progress on denuclearization.

KELEMEN: DiMaggio, who's been involved in what's known as Track II diplomacy with the North Koreans, says one of the problems is that they've refused to start working-level talks with Special Envoy Steve Biegun.

DIMAGGIO: Following the Singapore summit, Trump fostered what I would call a very unproductive dynamic that reinforced the North Korean's view that they should only deal with Trump. And as a result of that, American negotiators have not been able to engage their counterparts at the working level at all. And I think that's why we've seen so little progress.

KELEMEN: A second summit, she says, is a chance to reset this diplomacy. The State Department says Biegun is heading to Sweden. His North Korean counterpart is already there. There are big gaps to bridge. The U.S. wants North Korea to give a full inventory of its nuclear and missile programs and wants it to denuclearize before getting sanctions relief. Russia and China, both permanent U.N. Security Council members, argue there should be incentives for Pyongyang to stay engaged. The U.N. secretary general, Antonio Guterres, told reporters today he wants to see more progress and predictability first.


ANTONIO GUTERRES: We believe it's high time to make sure that the negotiations between the United States and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea start again seriously and that the roadmap is clearly defined for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

KELEMEN: And he doesn't see a role for himself or the U.N. at the moment. All eyes are on Washington. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has bristled at the idea that the administration is easing up on its maximum pressure campaign against North Korea. But the Carnegie Endowment's DiMaggio believes the Trump administration needs to rethink its approach.

DIMAGGIO: If the U.S. goes into the second summit with a more realistic, phased approach, perhaps including some early sanctions exemptions and a peace declaration, which are the two priorities for the North Koreans, then we may see some progress.

KELEMEN: There's certainly a lot of reasons to be skeptical about whether Kim Jong Un is serious about denuclearization, she says. But she doesn't rule out the possibility of progress once diplomats at the working level can really get started. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.