The White House was deep in preparation on Tuesday for the proposed summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, despite North Korea’s conspicuous silence over a meeting they reportedly proposed last week.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson admitted last week that he did not know Trump was going to announce a meeting with Kim. He returned to Washington Monday after cutting short a trip to Africa where he was attempting to fix broken relations with countries his boss recently called “shitholes.”
Four days out from the shock announcement that the U.S. president would meet face-to-face with Kim “by May,” there has been no word from the gulag state on the soon-to-happen sit-down.
Trump has given the understaffed State Department an almost impossible deadline, given the pile of diplomatic work required ahead of a summit on denuclearization.
Yet Foggy Bottom is scheduled to convene a meeting Tuesday to start work on the process, one of a “number of levels” the administration is working on ahead of the summit, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said Monday.
Tillerson will meet his South Korean counterpart, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, in Washington Friday.
Kang is preparing for Seoul’s own summit with the North, with Kim planning to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in as soon as next month.
A government spokesperson in Seoul confirmed Tuesday that Moon would seek a complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal during the meeting.
The nuclear question is not the only topic likely to be addressed. Also on the agenda are:
- Family Reunions: According to the Korean Red Cross, more than 75,000 people living in South Korea “are aging and dying without meeting their families residing in North Korea.” Reunions last took place in 2015, but the current detente could pave the way for families divided since the 1953 armistice to see each other again.
- Detainees: North Korea is currently holding six South Koreans and three Americans, and any talks would likely involve discussions about repatriation of these detainees. In exchange Pyongyang could once again demand the return of 12 North Korean women who worked at a North Korea-run restaurant in China and defected to South Korea as a group in 2016.
- Economic Exchanges: At one point, more than 55,000 North Korean workers were employed in South Korean-owned factories in the Kaesong industrial complex north of the border, making everything from toys to textiles. It was shut down in 2016 after Seoul claimed Pyongyang was diverting workers’ wages to find its nuclear and missile programs. The easing of tensions, together with the crippling sanctions hitting North Korea, could allow for a return of the workers.