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Trump plans North Korea nuclear summit with Kim Jong Un for February

Trump met with a top Kim deputy at the White House Friday amid evidence that Pyongyang is developing ballistic missiles.
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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump plans to meet face-to-face with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next month for a second nuclear summit, the White House announced Friday.

"The President looks forward to meeting with Chairman Kim at a place to be announced at a later date," according to the White House readout of Trump's meeting with top Kim deputy Kim Yong Chul.

Trump and Kim Yong Chul had planned to discuss "relations between the two countries and continued progress on North Korea’s final, fully verified denuclearization," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement before Friday's meeting.

Trump announced a denuclearization deal with Kim Jong Un at the conclusion of a high-profile summit in Singapore in June, but U.S. officials have told NBC News that Pyongyang has continued to develop ballistic missiles at undeclared sites.

While Trump has portrayed the suspension of nuclear missile tests as a sign that North Korea is no longer a threat to its neighbors or to the U.S., retired Air Force Gen. Barry McCaffrey told NBC News in November that North Korea's actions amounted to "a political charade."

"In the short term, North Korea is the most consequential threat to U.S. national security we're facing," he said at the time. "They have nuclear weapons, they have delivery systems, they are not going to denuclearize."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Kim Yong Chul on Friday morning.

They "had a good discussion" about "efforts to make progress on the commitments President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un made at their summit in Singapore,” State Department deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino said.

Progress toward the vague goals laid out in the first meeting between the two leaders has been elusive, with the two countries locked in a stalemate over how far North Korea must go toward denuclearization for sanctions relief.

Before Friday, Kim Yong Chul and Pompeo had not met since the U.S. secretary of state traveled to Pyongyang last July. The two had been scheduled to meet in New York in November, but the meeting was called off at the last moment.

Trump agreed to a second summit despite North Korea’s failure to take any concrete steps to abandon its nuclear weapons, including a refusal to provide an inventory of its nuclear arsenal.

Vice President Mike Pence acknowledged the stalled negotiations earlier this week, telling ambassadors gathered at the State Department Wednesday, “We still await concrete steps by North Korea to dismantle the nuclear weapons that threaten our people and our allies in the region.”

While North Korea has consistently refused to give up its nuclear and missile arsenal, continued to produce fissile material and demanded a lifting of sanctions as a sign of goodwill, the Trump administration has backtracked on a number of issues.

The White House initially had insisted that no talks could take place until the North provided an inventory on its nuclear program, but later dropped that condition. The Trump administration also agreed to postpone military exercises after resisting the idea earlier.

“The North Koreans have been pretty steadfast in what they’re willing to do and not do,” said Jung Pak, a former CIA officer who followed North Korea’s nuclear program.

But the U.S. position has softened since the early months of Trump’s presidency, which featured tough rhetoric and new sanctions, said Pak, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank. “The U.S. goal posts have shifted considerably the past year,” she said.

And Trump has spoken of Kim in glowing terms since June and even asserted that the North no longer posed “a nuclear threat.”

U.S. officials have insisted the talks with North Korea have produced progress, as tensions have eased and Pyongyang has not conducted a nuclear or missile test since the diplomacy began.

As the Trump administration tries to find a formula to persuade North Korea to take steps toward denuclearization while dangling the possibility of easing sanctions, experts say the president is pursuing a model that resembles the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, which he has blasted as a disaster. Trump pulled the United States out of the accord, and Republicans had accused the Obama administration of taking a naive approach to the negotiations and being too ready to make concessions to secure a deal.

Skeptics of diplomacy inside the administration, and Republican hawks in Congress now worry that Trump could be overly eager to strike a deal with Kim, and make fresh concessions without securing concrete action from the North Korean leader.