Since the first historic summit meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last June in Singapore yielded a two-page joint agreement without a clear definition of or a timeline for denuclearization, expectations and misgivings further escalated for the second U.S.-DPRK summit, which was officially announced during Trump’s State of the Union address to be held on February 27 and 28 in Vietnam. As the dates approached, a hailstorm of news reports from Seoul hinted at the possibility of a “small deal” to be signed in Hanoi; North Korea would make progress on denuclearization, which would likely involve dismantling its Yongbyon nuclear facility and/or intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and, in return, the U.S. would offer economic aid by easing sanctions, probably along with officially ending the Korean War and building liaison offices. This forecast partially stemmed from the political plight Trump faced in Washington due to the impending Mueller report with a Democrat-controlled House and the 2020 election nearing, meaning that he would have to show some progress in nuclear negotiations with Kim so as to break through the ongoing domestic challenge. Against this backdrop, Stephen Biegun, the U.S. Special Representative for North Korea, said at Stanford University1 in late January, “President Trump is ready to end this war [the Korean War]. It is over. It is done.” This was followed by remarks from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during an interview2 with CBS in mid-February, “It’s our full intention of getting a good outcome in exchange for relieving those sanctions [economic sanctions.]” Such comments hailed the possibility of a deal quite favorable to Kim. News delivered just prior to the summit, that South Korean president Moon Jae-in and Trump shared a positive outlook for the meeting over the phone, hyped the likelihood of a promising result in Hanoi between Washington and Pyongyang.
Moon, during the phone conversation3 with Trump, suggested his vision of inter-Korean economic cooperation as one of the “corresponding measures” that could be awarded to Kim, lessening the burden on Washington’s shoulders, if North Korea gives up its nuclear program and, according to the Blue House, Trump gave a positive response. Moon reportedly said that South Korea is “ready to take over the role of undertaking anything from reconnecting railways and roads between Seoul and Pyongyang to other inter-Korean economic projects.”4 Such an approach was brought up earlier during an interview which the special adviser to the South Korean president, Moon Chung-in, had with Joongang in January,5 right after Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s address came out; he proposed incremental economic exchanges, limited to only between Seoul and Pyongyang, to bring about the North’s denuclearization, and said, “economic exchanges between the two Koreas can exceptionally be exempted from the target of UN sanctions as the two Koreas of the same ethnic group have a special relationship with each other.”