US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will probably be all smiles as they shake hands in Hanoi for a meeting this week meant to put flesh on what many critics call their frustratingly vague first summit in Singapore. But behind the grins is a swirl of competing goals and fears.
In addition to the two main players, China, South Korea and Japan also have deep interests in what Trump and Kim can hammer out in Vietnam, including the biggest question of them all: Can the US and North Korea agree on what the “denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula” means and create a successful framework that gets it done?
A look at the contending goals in a summit meant to settle the world’s most vexing nuclear stand-off.
If the US position is fairly clear - ridding North Korea of as much of its nuclear programme as possible - it is much less certain how much Kim is willing to relinquish of what his propaganda services call the nation’s “treasured sword”.
Kim is clearly doing something different than his dictator father and grandfather.
In addition to building a nuclear arsenal that commands world attention and working to ensure economic, military and personal security, he’s also pushing to lift his nation from poverty.
To do that, he needs to find a way to ease crushing international sanctions so he can pursue engagement projects with South Korea, including two big-ticket ventures to reopen a jointly run industrial park and a tourist resort that once brought in an estimated $150million (R2.08m) in cash every year.
Despite deep scepticism about Kim’s intentions, many North Korea nuclear experts suggest that even Kim himself may not know if he will give up his nuclear weapons.
The Hanoi summit is, in many ways, a test of what the North Korean leader will be willing to accept for sacrificing this ultimate security guarantee.
Trump savoured the wall-to-wall coverage of his first summit with Kim in June last year. But he’s under pressure to do better this time.
He wants progress on denuclearisation, even as he tries to keep expectations low, saying he has no “pressing time schedule” in mind.
At the Vietnam summit, the US is likely to seek an agreement on how to start work on Kim’s previously reported statements that he’s ready to dismantle his country’s plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities.
Trump wants Kim to formalise his offer to let international experts in to verify dismantling steps at North Korea’s main rocket launch site and a nuclear testing site.
Trump also would like to get back the remains of more Americans killed during the Korean War and to move toward a permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Ultimately, the US also wants an inventory of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile facilities, equipment and material, and then an agreed-upon process for destroying them in a way that can be verified. But no one expects the two sides to reach that point in Vietnam.
No matter what, Trump the showman wants to be seen as a strong leader on the world stage, leaving behind for a moment the rancour at home over his long-sought wall on the Mexican border and the multiplying investigations into his campaign and business dealings.
Seoul has prioritised stabilising its bilateral relationship with North Korea amid the larger nuclear negotiations between the US and the North. It now hopes the second summit will provide an opportunity to restart inter-Korean economic projects held back by heavy US-led sanctions against the North.
In a recent conversation with Trump, South Korea’s liberal President Moon Jae-in said Seoul was ready to restart joint economic projects with North Korea and asked Trump to consider offering them as incentives for the North to denuclearise when he meets Kim.
Moon, the son of North Korean war refugees, held three meetings with Kim last year and described inter-Korean reconciliation as crucial for resolving the nuclear stand-off.
But the tough sanctions have limited the range of joint activities the two Koreas can undertake.
Also, some experts question whether Seoul’s expectations for sanctions relief for North Korea are realistic when Kim has yet to show he’s willing to deal away his arsenal.
For China, concerns about instability in North Korea, its ostensible communist ally, have long overridden worries about its nuclear arsenal. Beijing chiefly fears a collapse of the North's economy that could lead to armed conflict within the government and a potential flood of refugees across the rivers that separate the neighbours.
China is North Korea’s chief source of assistance and trade, and any movement toward sanctions relief would be welcomed by its business community.
To preserve its interests, China has sought regular contact with Kim, hosting him for three visits since the announcement of the first round of talks last year.
President Xi Jinping also met Kim informally in the north-eastern Chinese port city of Dalian in what some in the US saw as an act of Chinese meddling ahead of the Singapore summit.
Xi’s meetings with Kim are more convincingly seen as an attempt to help guide the process while offering encouragement and ensuring that China’s status as a key regional power broker remains intact.
Japan, which is still tormented by kidnappings of its citizens by North Korea decades ago and lies within easy striking distance of the North’s missiles, has long wanted a deal.
But not just any accord. There’s worry about reports that Trump may seek an agreement that only partially targets North Korea’s missile programme. For example, a deal that would scrap the North’s long-range nuclear missiles aimed at the US and leave in place its shorter-range missiles.
Japan also doesn’t want to be left behind as negotiations proceed. It is seen as a US bulwark in the region, with tens of thousands of US troops and their hi-tech equipment stationed throughout the archipelago. AP African News Agency (ANA)