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Editorial: US, N. Korea should avoid easy compromise on Pyongyang's nuclear, missile programs

The leaders of the United States and North Korea are scheduled to have their second summit on Feb. 27 and 28, as U.S. President Donald Trump revealed in his State of the Union address to Congress.

The choice of Vietnam as the venue for the meeting seems to reflect the fact that the Southeast Asian country has come to develop a friendly relationship with the U.S. after a long war between the two nations. Washington also apparently has a desire for Pyongyang to see Hanoi as its economic role model.

The meeting in June last year in Singapore between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was significant in that the leaders shook hands for the first time, but ended with an abstract agreement. Subsequent working-level negotiations have led nowhere.

A panel of experts at the United Nations has reportedly pointed out that the nuclear facility in Yongbyong in western North Korea continues operating. Meanwhile, illegal ship-to-ship transfers of goods on the sea are on the rise to evade sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council.

Despite this backdrop, why is Trump meeting with Kim again? The U.S. leader apparently wants to play up his leadership by advancing diplomacy with North Korea as his plan to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico has been bogged down by opposition from Democrats.

In the State of the Union address, the president emphasized his good personal ties with Kim, but made no reference to denuclearization agreed upon in the June 2018 summit. Moreover, Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, implied that he is not worrying too much about the timing of a declaration by Pyongyang on the country's nuclear-related facilities -- an important step in the denuclearization process.

These developments have given rise to concerns that the two leaders could settle for the disposal of North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which the U.S. regards as a direct threat to its national security. And such an outcome may sound realistic as President Trump tends to see diplomacy in the form of business deals.

If that is the deal to be struck between the two leaders, North Korean intermediate-range missiles capable of hitting Japan would be left intact -- a situation that would deal a serious blow to the Japan-U.S. alliance.

Meanwhile, South Korea expects the U.S. to exempt South-North economic cooperation from sanctions. China and Russia are also calling for the easing of sanctions on Pyongyang. This means that even an easy compromise by the U.S. would be welcomed by most countries in the region except Japan.

Tokyo must work hard to persuade Trump that a complete disposal of all nuclear devices and missiles held by Pyongyang is vital for the peace and stability of Northeast Asia.

The U.S.-North Korea joint statement of the June 2018 summit did not call for "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization" -- an expression encapsulating the longtime U.S. position toward Pyongyang's nuclear program. President Trump appalled the world when he explained that the statement did not include the expression because "there's no time." A sloppy agreement like that is not acceptable this time around.

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