A planned second face-to-face between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un was the biggest nuclear news of Tuesday’s State of the Union address.
From the dais in the House of Representatives, Trump told a joint session of Congress that he and Kim plan to meet Feb. 27-28 in Vietnam to continue the White House’s “bold new diplomacy” of compelling the regime to verifiably end its nuclear weapons program.
Trump and Kim previously met in Singapore in June. It was the first time a sitting U.S. president met face-to-face with the leader of the Korean peninsula’s hereditary dictatorship, which is now in the third generation of Kim family rule under the founder’s grandson.
Trump outlined no agenda for the second summit meeting in his address: a speech that traditionally sticks to high-level talking points. No nuclear disarmament or on-site independent inspection of North Korean nuclear sites followed the first Trump-Kim summit, which the administration hailed as a historic thaw in relations between the two antagonists, and critics — including many of Trump’s political opponents — slammed as unproductive.
Trump also used his annual prime-time, televised speech to Congress to highlight his administration’s move on Saturday to begin withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The White House claims Russia has violated the bilateral 1987 accord for more than a decade. The Kremlin claims it has no missiles or equipment that violate the accord.
The United States will fully withdraw from the treaty Aug. 2, freeing Washington to deploy conventional or nuclear-armed weapons with a range of 500 kilometers to 5,500 kilometers — about 310 miles to 3,100 miles. The Trump administration last week said it now plans no nuclear-armed INF-range systems. The administration is researching conventional missiles in the treaty range, as authorized by Congress for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.
In his speech, Trump again raised the possibility of forging a new INF-like agreement that includes China. Beijing’s arsenal relies heavily on INF-range missiles, which from Chinese territory can reach U.S. allies in Asia, regional nuclear rivals India and Pakistan, and Russia.
Absent a new INF-like treaty, Trump promised the United States “will outspend and out-innovate all others by far.”
Finally, Trump hailed one his administration’s earliest nuclear policy moves: ceasing participation in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), informally known as the Iran nuclear deal. The Barack Obama administration negotiated that multilateral deal in 2015. Trump said Tuesday night his decision to cease participation in the accord, intended to limit Tehran’s ability to create special nuclear material, will “ensure this corrupt dictatorship never acquires nuclear weapons.”
Supporters of the deal, including one of its chief negotiators, former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, say the JCPOA was the only realistic way to slow and perhaps prevent Tehran from building a nuclear arsenal. Critics, prominent among them Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, say the deal was toothless, in part because it permitted Iran to continue developing intercontinental ballistic missile technology.