Trump-Kim summit kicks off in Vietnam: Here's what to look for

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Trump heralded that agreement as “very comprehensive,” but outside observers downplayed its importance because of a recurring diplomatic issue with Pyongyang: North Korea has a different definition for “denuclearization” than others.

Pyongyang has said in the past that it may denuclearize only if certain conditions were fulfilled. Those include the U.S. withdrawing troops from South Korea as well as ending the U.S. regional nuclear umbrella, a security arrangement in which Washington promises in-kind retaliation on behalf of close allies if they are attacked with nuclear weapons.

American and North Korean sides still appear far apart on the idea of North Korea getting rid of its nuclear weapons.

“So far, North Korea seems only willing to take measures that limit its nuclear and missile capabilities — it has no indications that it wants to roll back or undercut its existing nuclear arsenal or missile arsenal,” Tong Zhao, a fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, told CNBC on Tuesday.

Reports since the last Trump-Kim summit suggest North Korean forces are continuing to develop missile technology and nuclear weapons in secret facilities. A U.S. intelligence report last month said that North Korea was “unlikely to give up” its weapons of mass destruction, missiles or production capability.

Trump has repeatedly pointed out that no one has detected North Korea testing nuclear devices or ballistic missiles since his administration began engaging with the Kim regime in earnest.

For a period in 2017 — Trump’s first year in office — North Korea created global anxiety by testing missiles at least once a month and directing regular threats toward the United States and others. Trump declared in August 2017 that such threats “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Pyongyang is last known to have conducted a nuclear test in September 2017 and an intercontinental ballistic missile test in November 2017.

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