President Donald Trump is just one week away from one of the most important moments of his presidency – and he is trying to lower expectations ahead of time.
Trump plans to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam at the end of February for their second summit. Trump's main goal, as it was when they first met in Singapore last June, is to enter into a North Korea nuclear program agreement.
It's easier said than done. After several months of negotiations, both parties are at a dead end: the United States has demanded that North Korea offer a full detailed list of its nuclear inventory before lifting sanctions, while North Korea says the sanctions should be abolished before giving the full list and seriously starting to downgrade their nuclear capabilities.
It is so strange that Trump has used almost any public opportunity to try to lower the mounting pressure in front of the historic meeting.
Let's start with the first instance. On Tuesday, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office in response to a question about North Korea: "We are not in any rush. … As long as there is no test, I am not in the rush. If there is a test, it is another agreement . "It's a comment he made before, but it carries more weight now when he mentioned it again before the meeting on February 27.
Trump often points out that Pyongyang has not detonated a nuclear power plant since September 201
So the current cradle is nothing new, and North Korea has used a break to continue improving its atomic arsenal, threatening regional allies and US territories.
"This only reinforces the belief among some that Trump either does not understand the threat or cynically approaches the North Korea issue from a political rather than security perspective," Frank Aum, a North Korean expert at the US Institute of Peace in Washington, told me .
And Wednesday Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that the Hanoi summit is unlikely to be the last time he meets with Kim. In other words, don't expect a massive deal to finish North Korea's nuclear program next week. Trump added that he thought Pyongyang would eventually break down his atomic arsenal.
"Trump is trying to create negotiation leverage before Hanoi by creating the impression that he is not desperate to achieve North Korea's denuclination," Aum says.  Compiles the Trump world – and especially Kim – knows that next week's meeting is not the last chance to sign a huge deal. As a matter of fact, the president seems to have dismissed long and difficult negotiations with Pyongyang.
And that can actually be good news.
Trump gets right in North Korea right?
Bridget Coggins, a North Korea expert at the University of California Santa Barbara, told me that "rapid denuclearisation is impractical."
There is one major reason why Kim believes having a credible nuclear program will help his regime survive, mainly by deterring an invasion from the United States. He therefore currently has no incentive to give up his arsenal and open up to attack. (And even though he said that he would give up his weapons at once, it would take years for international inspectors to confirm it.)
The way North Korea will continue is through a step-by-step process. In Singapore, Trump and Kim actually agreed on a four-part plan. (The reference to "DPRK" below is an acronym for North Korea's official name, Democratic People's Republic of Korea):
1. The United States and the DPRK commit themselves to establishing new relations between the United States and North Korea, in accordance with the desire of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
2nd The United States and the DPRK will participate in their efforts to build a durable and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
3rd The confirmation of the Panmunjom Declaration on April 27, 2018 commits the DPRK to work for the complete denuclination of the Korean Peninsula.
4th The United States and the DPRK undertake to recover POW / MIA residues, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
Note that "denuclearisation" does not come to the third step. The first two are about improving the ties between the United States, North Korea and South Korea. There is also much disagreement about what "denuclearisation" means – for the United States, Pyongyang is ending its nuclear program; for North Korea, Washington stops protecting South Korea. It does so by stationing thousands of troops in the country and being willing to fight a nuclear war to help it if needed.
It is possible that what Trump is trying to signal – albeit poorly – is that as long as North Korea does not test multiple weapons, the United States will undertake to work through the four-step plan. The next meeting can really be about reconstruction and then not ending nuclear programs.
"There is no trust between the two governments and they are working to change the relationship," Coggins says. But "the pressure on real content progress is there too."