The meeting that could change the world

Showdown: Trump claims he will know “within the first minute” if Kim is serious about talks.

Will it be a success? Tomorrow, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un will meet in a historic summit. Some hope North Korea will give up its nuclear arsenal, others say grave troubles lie ahead.

In all of modern history, no sitting US president has ever met with a leader of North Korea. Times have changed. And tomorrow, in a Singapore hotel, President Trump will sit down face-to-face with Kim Jong-un.

Just getting to this point has been a rocky ride. Both have launched volleys of insults and threats of war. Weeks ago, Trump dramatically cancelled the summit, only to change his mind.

But what outcome can we expect, and will it do any good? Here are four possible scenarios:

1/ North Korea totally denuclearises. Washington’s ultimate goal is the “complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement” of Kim’s nuclear programme. However, nuclear weapons are Kim’s strongest insurance against foreign invasion. If he were to play ball, Kim would demand a high price: probably the withdrawal of America’s military forces from the region. Verdict: Highly unlikely.

2/ Big steps but not full denuclearisation. Kim may reduce his nuclear arsenal, and possibly destroy the long range missiles that threaten the US. Normalised diplomatic relations would be expected in return: that means an end to crippling economic sanctions; the establishment of a US embassy in Pyongyang; and possibly an invitation for Kim to visit the White House. Verdict: Unlikely.

3/ Small steps and symbolic gestures. Recently Trump has downplayed the possibility of instant breakthroughs, stating that the process “will take a period of time.” Some anticipate a broad framework for a nuclear deal, with details worked out in subsequent summits. A commitment to formally end the Korean War would be a positive statement of mutual co-operation. Verdict: Most likely.

4/ Summit fails with no agreements. “These things are very unpredictable,… particularly when the leaders are as volatile as Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un,” says columnist Gideon Rachman. Trump has stated he would “walk out” if discussions go sour. This is the worst case scenario: a diplomatic failure like this may increase the chance of American military action against Kim. Verdict: Very unlikely.

Will the summit be a success?

Singapore showdown

The signs are positive, some argue. It is the unique, if unconventional, qualities of these leaders that have made the talks possible. No side will want to come away empty-handed, and Kim has shown a willingness to co-operate. A new, more peaceful, era in modern history could be about to dawn.

Do not be so sure. Trump is erratic, impatient and overestimates his deal-making skills. Furthermore Kim may not be serious about denuclearisation — only caring about the legitimacy this summit gives his oppressive regime. Far from solving anything, the summit could make relations even worse. Catastrophe awaits.

You Decide

  1. Will North Korea surrender its nuclear weapons?
  2. Is Donald Trump a good president?


  1. Imagine you are a reporter sent to cover the summit. You can ask one question to Trump, and another to Kim. What questions would you ask and why?
  2. In Become An Expert, watch the Financial Times video and read Julian Zelizer’s piece for CNN. Each explores various possibilities for how the summit will go. Using no more than 300 words, write your own opinion piece arguing whether the summit will be a success or a failure.

Some People Say...

“My whole life is about winning. I don’t lose often. I almost never lose.”

President Donald Trump

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The summit will be held at the Capella Resort on Sentosa Island, which is located just off the southern tip of Singapore. Trump will become the first sitting US president to meet a leader of North Korea. However, this was achieved by former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton following their terms in power.
What do we not know?
In a message to Trump, relayed by South Korean officials, Kim has previously claimed that North Korea is “committed to denuclearisation”. However, we do not know precisely what Kim means by the phrase, and if his idea of “denuclearisation” would satisfy that of American and United Nations (UN) weapons inspectors.

Word Watch

One of the few countries in which North Korea has an embassy. The island nation has strong business ties with the US and North Korea.
Trump has labelled Kim a “madman” and a “sick puppy”, while Kim has called the president a “mentally deranged dotard”.
In one particularly fraught exchange, Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen”.
To be accepted by the US, the denuclearisation of North Korea must be checked and verified by UN weapons inspectors.
Long range
Kim has declared that North Korea is capable of striking any city in the US using the Hwasong-15 missile.
Commercial and financial penalties imposed on a country for political reasons. For example, current UN sanctions on North Korea include a ban on exporting electrical equipment, coal and minerals, as well as restrictions on fishing rights.
Korean War
Hostilities lasted from 1950 to 1953. North Korea was supported by the Soviet Union and China, while South Korea was backed by the United States.


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