After the Trump-Kim Failure

The president was right to walk rather than accept a bad deal, but look out ahead.

President Trump was right to walk away from his summit with Kim Jong-un rather than accept a bad nuclear agreement, but the outcome underscores that he was bamboozled last year at his first summit with Kim. Whatever genius Trump sees in the mirror, “the art of the deal” is not his thing.

At this meeting, Kim apparently sought a full end to sanctions on North Korea in exchange for closing only some nuclear sites. That was not a good deal, and Trump was right to walk rather than accept it.

“Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, but we couldn’t do that,” Trump said, adding: “Sometimes you have to walk.”

President Reagan famously marched out of a 1986 summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, rather than accept an arms control agreement with Russia that he regarded as flawed. A year later the Russians returned with better terms and a deal was made — and we can all hope that something similar will happen this time.

Still, there are significant risks ahead. The most important is that North Korea may return to testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, for that would mark a huge escalation of tensions and renewed concerns about brinkmanship and war.

Unfortunately, North Korea is an otherwise unimportant country that gets attention only when it behaves provocatively. So its leaders have learned that their best leverage is to fire missiles, detonate warheads, or start up nuclear complexes.

While Trump was right to walk in this case, he also seems to have played his hand poorly in the run-up to the summit. In particular, he signaled that he eagerly wanted a deal and that “fantastic success” was likely, all of which probably led Kim to raise demands in the belief that Trump would fold.

With normal presidents, summit deals are largely agreed upon ahead of time. As one veteran diplomat put it, presidents pull rabbits out of hats, after diplomats have worked diligently ahead of time to stuff the rabbits into the hats. But Trump has never had much patience for that meticulous diplomatic process, instead placing excessive faith in breakthroughs arising from personal relationships — and his faith was clearly misplaced this time.

The North Korean side had refused to hash out the summit outcome in advance with the highly regarded U.S. special envoy, Stephen Biegun, presumably because Kim thought that he could outfox Trump in person in Hanoi the way he had in Singapore nine months ago.

The collapse of the latest talks also underscores how misguided Trump was at that earlier meeting. He didn’t understand that Kim uses “denuclearization” to mean something different than the meaning in the United States, and he gave Kim the enormous gift of legitimacy that comes with a summit, without getting anything comparable in return.

The collapse of the latest talks also underscores how misguided Trump was at that earlier meeting. He didn’t understand that Kim uses “denuclearization” to mean something different than the meaning in the United States, and he gave Kim the enormous gift of legitimacy that comes with a summit, without getting anything comparable in return.

It is also distasteful to see Trump praising Kim and referring to him as “my friend” and a “great leader,” and, last year, asserting that Kim had sent him “beautiful letters” and that “we fell in love.” It’s perfectly appropriate to engage with ruthless dictators, but fawning over them is a betrayal of our values.

Kim and Trump Back at Square 1: If U.S. Keeps Sanctions, North Will Keep Nuclear Program

Nearly two years into his presidency and more than six months after his historic summit meeting with Kim Jong-un of North Korea, President Trump finds himself essentially back where he was at the beginning in achieving the ambitious goal of getting Mr. Kim to relinquish his nuclear arsenal.

That was the essential message of Mr. Kim’s annual New Year’s televised speech, where he reiterated that international sanctions must be lifted before North Korea will give up a single weapon, dismantle a single missile site or stop producing nuclear material.

The list of recent North Korean demands was a clear indicator of how the summit meeting in Singapore last June altered the optics of the relationship more than the reality. Those demands were very familiar from past confrontations: that

  1. all joint military training between the United States and South Korea be stopped, that
  2. American nuclear and military capability within easy reach of the North be withdrawn, and that
  3. a peace treaty ending the Korean War be completed.

“It’s fair to say that not much has changed, although we now have more clarity regarding North Korea’s bottom line,’’ Evans J.R. Revere, a veteran American diplomat and former president of the Korea Society, wrote in an email.

Pyongyang refused to accept the United States’ definition of ‘denuclearization’ in Singapore,’’ he wrote.

To the United States, that means

  • the North gives up its entire nuclear arsenal;

in the North’s view, it includes

  • a reciprocal pullback of any American ability to threaten it with nuclear weapons.

The two competing visions of denuclearization have not changed since then.”

Mr. Trump and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, who is supposed to turn Mr. Trump’s enthusiasms into diplomatic achievements, dispute such conclusions. They note that the tone of one of the world’s fiercest armed standoffs has improved. It has, and both leaders say they want to meet again.

In a tweet on Tuesday night, Mr. Trump cited Mr. Kim’s offers not to produce or proliferate weapons, without mentioning the many caveats. He went on to say that he looked forward “to meeting with Chairman Kim who realizes so well that North Korea possesses great economic potential!”

He swung to the other extreme, declaring after Singapore that the nuclear threat from the North was overa statement even his most loyal aides have not repeated — and that he and one of the world’s most notorious dictators “fell in love.”

.. By some measures there has been modest progress. It has been 13 months since the North tested a nuclear weapon or a long-range missile, a change that Mr. Trump and Mr. Pompeo cite as the first fruits of what some officials now concede will be a long diplomatic push.

.. But Mr. Trump’s strategic goal, from the moment he vowed to “solve” the North Korea problem rather than repeat the mistakes of past presidents, has been to end the North Korean nuclear and missile threat, not suspend it in place.

How Trump bobs and weaves to avoid the truth

As he so often does, President Trump falsely declared on “60 Minutes” that North Korea and the United States were going to war before he stepped in to thwart it.

Interviewer Lesley Stahl was having none of it. “We were going to war?”

Trump immediately retreated to safer ground, expressing a view rather than trying to assert a fact: “I think it was going to end up in war,” he said, before moving on to his “impression” of the situation.

The 26-minute interview that aired Oct. 14 was typical Trump — bobbing and weaving through a litany of false claims, misleading assertions and exaggerated facts. Trump again demonstrated what The Fact Checker has long documented: His rhetoric is fundamentally based on making statements that are not true, and he will be as deceptive as his audience will allow.

.. Trump resorting to all of his favored moves to sidestep the truth.

.. On Stahl’s first question, about whether Trump still thinks climate change is a hoax, the president dodged by saying “something’s happening.” He then completely reversed course and declared that climate change is not a hoax and that “I’m not denying climate change.”

.. Trump also falsely said the climate will change back again, even though the National Climate Assessment approved by his White House last year said that there was no turning back. He said he did not know whether climate change was man-made, though the same report said “there is no convincing alternative” posed by the evidence.

.. Trump did his usual shrug when asked whether North Korea is building more nuclear missiles. “Well, nobody really knows. I mean, people are saying that.” Among the people who are saying that are U.S. intelligence agencies, who have concluded that North Korea does not intend to fully surrender its nuclear stockpile and is instead working to conceal its weapons and production facilities.

.. Even when he adjusts his rhetoric, at times contradicting what he has just said, Trump almost always appears to believe firmly in what he is saying.

.. On trade, the president continues to suggest that deficits mean the United States is losing money: “I told President Xi we cannot continue to have China take $500 billion a year out of the United States.”

That’s wrong. The trade deficit just means Americans are buying more Chinese products than the Chinese are buying from the United States, not that the Chinese are somehow stealing U.S. money.

.. Trump also continues to misstate the trade deficit with China. It’s not $500 billion, as he told Stahl; it was $335 billion in 2017

.. Curiously, he denied to Stahl that he ever said he was engaged in a trade war with China, even though he has said and tweeted it many times, including on Fox News last week.

.. He also falsely said that “the European Union was formed in order to take advantage of us on trade.” That’s a misreading of history, at best. The E.U. got its start shortly after World War II as the European Coal and Steel Community — an early effort to bind together bitter enemies such as Germany and France in a common economic space to promote peace.

.. Trump surfaced another old favorite knock on U.S. allies — “we shouldn’t be paying almost the entire cost of NATO to protect Europe.” Actually, the United States pays 22 percent of NATO’s common fund. Trump keeps counting U.S. defense spending devoted to patrolling the Pacific Ocean and other parts of the world as part of NATO funding.

When it was pointed out that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a former general who served in the military for 44 years, says he believes NATO had kept the peace for 70 years, Trump sniffed, “I think I know more about it than he does.”

.. Questioned about Russian interference in the 2016 election, Trump conceded that “they meddled.” But he added, “I think China meddled, too.” When Stahl said he was “diverting the whole Russia thing,” Trump insisted he was not. “I’m not doing anything,” he demurred. “I’m saying Russia, but I’m also saying China.”

There is no evidence China engaged in the same disinformation effort as Russia, which intelligence agencies have said was designed to swing the election toward Trump.

.. Finally, Trump continued his habit of mischaracterizing what his predecessor did. He claimed that Barack Obama “gave away” the Crimea region of Ukraine, when actually Russia seized it and Obama then led an effort to impose sanctions in response.

.. In one of the testier back-and-forths, Trump tried to shut down Stahl with one line that was indisputably true: “I’m president,” he said, “and you’re not.”

Why Should North Korea Give Up Its Nuclear Weapons?

To reach a final deal on the denuclearization of North Korea, the Trump administration must give up something substantial. But Washington isn’t budging.

.. South Korea and North Korea recently announced plans for a third summit meeting between their two leaders, to take place in Pyongyang in September. From family reunions to fielding a joint sports team in the upcoming Asian Games, the two Koreas are moving forward with steps to further détente on the peninsula.

By contrast, the United States has done very little in the two months since the Singapore summit between President Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, to advance the relationship.

The United States appears to be waiting for the North to take the next step. But the Trump administration is ignoring the reality that to reach a final deal on the eventual denuclearization of North Korea, the United States must give something substantial in return.

Above all, Washington must take steps to ease North Korean fears of an American attack. Without such a guarantee, the North will never surrender its nuclear arsenal.

.. Let’s take stock of the concessions by the two sides.

North Korea has imposed a moratorium on missile tests and nuclear tests. It has dismantled entrances to a nuclear test site (at Punggye-ri) and a satellite-launching site (at Sohae). There’s evidence of a shutdown of an I.C.B.M.-assembly facility near Pyongyang. It has returned what it says are the remains of 55 United States soldiers killed during the Korean War and has released three American citizens arrested in North Korea as a condition for the summit meeting. Pyongyang has also reduced domestic anti-American propaganda.

The United States has canceled one war game.

.. All of North Korea’s concessions were unthinkable less than a year ago.

.. North Korea has never offered to unilaterally disarm first, with the hope that the United States would then do something nice in return. Rather, North Korea has consistently called for a “phased” and “synchronous” approach, with “step for step” negotiations.

Trump Is in Denial About North Korea

US President Donald Trump’s insistence that negotiations with North Korea are “going well” is directly contradicted by US intelligence findings about the country’s nuclear program. Trump needs to put substance ahead of spectacle – and US allies ahead of his own fragile ego – before it is too late.

.. the Kim regime has continued to solidify its position as a nuclear-weapons state. The master of the Kremlin is sure to have taken note of this.

..  Reports citing US intelligence officials indicate that the North is pressing ahead with its nuclear-weapons program, by ramping up missile and enriched-uranium production and concealing the size of its nuclear inventory.

.. Anyone who has followed affairs on the Korean Peninsula has seen this movie before. After all, Kim’s father and grandfather wrote the script decades ago.

.. Kim has even reused his father’s special effects. In May, he blew up a nuclear test site with the same cinematic flair that Kim Jong-il displayed when he dynamited a nuclear reactor’s cooling tower ten years ago.

.. Trump made a major concession to Kim by agreeing to attend the summit in June. While there, he demonstrated that neither he nor his administration had a strategy for getting Kim to make good on any deal. Making matters worse, Trump has continued to insist that follow-up talks with the North are “going well,” even though US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s last visit to Pyongyang ended with a round of mutual recrimination.

.. Pompeo has already backpedaled on earlier US demands, by softening his language on the fraught issue of inspections and verification. And US officials have hinted that a further softening in the administration’s position is on the way.

.. other White House officials have taken a harder line. Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, has called for not only denuclearization, but also rapid disarmament of all of North Korea’s unconventional weapons. This month, Bolton even claimed to have a plan for dismantling all of North Korea’s nuclear-, chemical-, and biological-weapons programs within a year.

.. For Japan and South Korea, in particular, the contradictions between Trump’s rhetoric and his own intelligence services’ findings are becoming a source of serious concern.

.. Trump’s silence on the latest North Korea intelligence – to say nothing of his siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agencies on charges of Russian meddling in the 2016 US election – will further deepen allies’ anxieties. Ignoring North Korea’s deceptions directly undermines the security of Japan and South Korea.

.. because Japan and South Korea both host US military bases, they are at the top of the North’s nuclear target list.

.. Among other things, the North is accelerating production of solid-fuel rocket engines and an ICBM-armed submarine. Both technologies would bolster the North’s ability to launch a surprise attack, by making its nuclear arsenal more durable, mobile, and easily concealed.

.. White House officials are now suggesting that Trump could use the United Nations General Assembly meeting in September to hold another meeting with Kim, as if rekindling the two leaders’ “bromance” will lead to serious negotiations. It won’t. Instead, Trump needs to put substance before spectacle, above all by confronting Kim with the latest intelligence findings.

.. Platitudes about denuclearization are one thing; serious arms-control efforts to reduce the risks on the Korean Peninsula are quite another.