2. Mismatched signals may have set up the talks to fail.
Usually, before high-level talks like these, both sides spend a long time telegraphing their expected outcomes.
Such signals serve as public commitments, both to the other side of the negotiation and to citizens back home. It’s a way for both sides to test one another’s demands and offers, reducing the risk of surprise or embarrassment.
.. North Korea has not publicly committed to anything. It has, quite cannily, channeled its public communications through South Korea, making it easier to renege.
.. Mr. Trump has declared “denuclearization” as his minimal acceptable outcome for talks, making it harder for him to accept a more modest (but more achievable!) outcome and costlier for him to walk away.
The table is now set in such a way that virtually any outcome is a win for North Korea, but only a very narrow and difficult range of outcomes will save the United States from an embarrassing failure.
The North Koreans can walk away more freely, while the Americans will be more desperate to come home with some sort of win. It’s a formulation that puts the Americans at significant disadvantage before talks even begin.
3. The sides do not agree on the point of talking.
.. “denuclearization” means vastly different things to the United States and North Korea.
.. North Koreans, she writes, tend to mean it as a kind of mutual and incremental disarmament in which the United States also gives up weapons.
Normally, the United States and North Korea would have issued months, even years, of public statements on their goals for direct talks, to clear all this up.
.. 4. The Trump administration has gotten the process backward.
It’s practically an axiom of international diplomacy that you only bring heads of state together at the very end of talks, after lower-level officials have done the dirty work.Instead, the Trump administration is jumping straight to the last step.
.. There is little obvious gain in skipping over a process that is intended to lock North Korea into public commitments, test what is achievable and ensure maximum American leverage and flexibility.
.. “Failed negotiations at the summit level leave all parties with no other recourse for diplomacy.”
.. 5. The State Department is in a shambles.
Wouldn’t this be a good moment to have an American ambassador to South Korea? Or an under secretary of state for arms control and international security?
Both posts are empty. The desk for assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs is occupied by a respected but interim official who has clashed with the White House. Her boss, the under secretary for political affairs, is retiring.
.. There will be fewer high-level diplomats to run parallel talks, fewer midlevel officials to assist and brief the president, fewer analysts to feel out North Korean intentions and capabilities.
.. conventional wisdom among analysts, as summed up by The Economist, is that “Mr. Trump — a man who boasts about his television ratings, and who is bored by briefings and scornful of foreign alliances — could end up being played like a gold-plated violin.”
.. 6. Everything could turn on the president’s personality.
.. It means that talks and their outcome will be determined, to an unprecedented degree, by Mr. Trump’s personal biases and impulses. By his mood at the time of talks. By his particular style of negotiation.
.. Mr. Kelly expressed concern over Mr. Trump’s “chaotic management style, erratic, moody personality and chronic staffing problems.”
He added, “That’s not ideology talking. I am a registered Republican and worked once for a G.O.P. congressman.”
- .. He has tended to oscillate unpredictably between policies, throwing talks over the budget or health care into chaos.
- He has set members of his own party against one another, weakening their position against Democrats. And
- he has offered the Democrats sweeping concessions on a whim, to the surprise of his party.
.. When legislative efforts have stalled, Mr. Trump has at times lashed out. In domestic politics, that can mean publicly denigrating his target or pressuring them to resign. In a heavily militarized standoff between nuclear powers, the stakes would be higher.
.. 7. North Korea has already achieved a symbolic victory.
.. For North Korea, high-level talks are a big win in their own right. Mr. Kim seeks to transform his country from a rogue pariah into an established nuclear power, a peer to the United States, a player on the international stage.
.. “Kim is not inviting Trump so that he can surrender North Korea’s weapons,” Jeffrey Lewis, a Korea expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, wrote on Twitter. “Kim is inviting Trump to demonstrate that his investment in nuclear and missile capabilities has forced the United States to treat him as an equal.”