RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
When President Trump met with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore back in June, he called the talks a great success.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Our conversation was open, honest, direct and very, very productive. We produced something that is beautiful.
MARTIN: The North, he said, would denuclearize in exchange for better relations with the U.S. Since that meeting, though, there has been little progress. NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports on what's been going on.
GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: So what is going on? Pretty much bupkis. And Sig Hecker is frustrated.
SIEGFRIED HECKER: We're at a point where we have, in my opinion, almost a historic opportunity for a breakthrough in North Korea, and we're sitting around twiddling our thumbs.
BRUMFIEL: Hecker is a physicist at Stanford University who's made several trips to some of North Korea's most sensitive nuclear facilities. He says the opportunity exists because Kim wants economic development and Trump wants a big foreign policy win. At their meeting in Singapore, the two leaders seemed to recognize each other's desires, and it created a rare opening in U.S.-North Korea relations.
HECKER: Singapore opened the door, and nobody's been able to walk through it.
BRUMFIEL: Sue Mi Terry with the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the problem goes right back to that beautiful agreement, the Singapore Declaration.
SUE MI TERRY: Singapore Declaration was not remotely an agreement of any kind. It was just a vague aspirational statement.
BRUMFIEL: The brief document didn't explain how North Korea should de-nuke. Similarly, there was no timeline for when America would lift its economic sanctions. North Korea now wants economic relief and a possible peace declaration ahead of any denuclearization process. The U.S. says no, no, no, you've got it backwards - every nuke needs to come out of North Korea before we provide any relief.
TERRY: I think right now we're absolutely stuck. We are asking North Korea to move first, and North Korea is asking the United States to take the next step.
BRUCE KLINGNER: Well, I think what we need to do is try to get things on paper in greater detail.
BRUMFIEL: Bruce Klingner is with the conservative Heritage Foundation. He says what's needed to follow the Singapore Declaration is a document more like the old arms control agreements between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Those treaties went on for tens of pages. They laid out clear rules for the Cold War adversaries.
KLINGNER: We didn't like them. We didn't trust them. But if by having very extensive, carefully delineated text, we could move forward on capping and sending down weapons programs.
BRUMFIEL: But the Trump administration is not a fan of such complex agreements. It recently scrapped the nuclear deal with Iran and is planning withdrawal from another nuclear treaty with Russia. For its part, North Korea seems unwilling to engage on the details. It refuses to provide a list of nuclear facilities, and it keeps canceling meetings. Sue Mi Terry, who is also a former CIA analyst, says if there's a stalemate, North Korea may come out ahead. It has used the warmth of the Singapore Declaration to get other countries to relax sanctions, particularly China.
TERRY: China is loosening. They're not implementing sanctions as they used to. So already maximum pressure, that leverage is just not there anymore.
BRUMFIEL: South Korea is also keen for peace with its northern neighbor. Gradually, Terry says, the North's plan may ultimately be to isolate the U.S. Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News, Washington.
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