Both the celebrations and the prizes appear to be on hold, as Donald Trump is having difficulty finding a way to proceed with meeting North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Trump had a short discussion over the weekend with South Korean Moon Jae-in over how to proceed now that North Korea has balked at statements from Trump and John Bolton. And despite how often he has bragged about the potential summit, even Trump may be preparing to simply walk away.
When North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un proposed a face to face meeting with Donald Trump, Trump did the one thing that no other American leader would have done—he immediately accepted. Trump didn’t state any preconditions. He didn’t add any provisos. He just told representatives from South Korea that he’d be happy to chat with Kim.
While Trump supporters immediately began drafting their letters to the Nobel Prize committee, Trump’s acquiescence was exactly that—a surrender; a huge gift to North Korea. Agreeing to the meeting at the highest possible level without first requiring that North Korea agree to limitations on its actions represented a huge boost for the status of the North Korean regime. Where meetings between North and South Korea over the past year have been hopeful, Trump’s actions, far from offering a way out of the escalating threats on the peninsula, only confirm that North Korea has been on the right course.
It is very difficult to find any way to view Trump’s agreement to meet with Kim as anything other than the validation of the “get nukes, be taken seriously” approach that has to be tempting to any number of nations. After all, it appears to have worked for North Korea, despite that nation being widely painted as the greatest world villain for decades.
Having gained the recognition he wanted, it’s not clear at all that actually meeting with Trump offers any benefit to Kim. That’s especially true since Trump and Bolton have belatedly begun buckling on demands for denuclearization after agreeing to meet without putting these requirements in place. And with Donald Trump breaking the Iran nuclear treaty for no reason other than his desire to spite Barack Obama, North Korea is just one of a series of nations who are likely to see little reason to strike a deal with the United States.
Kim was more than willing to promise that he would dismantle North Korea’s nuclear testing facility—because it already collapsed in the last test, resulting in hundreds of deaths. And it’s not exactly necessary when North Korea is now estimated to have dozens of nuclear weapons on hand.
But the insistence by Bolton that any dealings with North Korea follow the “Libyan model,” a model in which Libya surrendered its chemical weapons, only to fall to rebellion, NATO intervention and their former dictator’s body on display in the ice chest of a corner market. Which isn’t exactly a path that appeals to Kim Jong-un.
Rather than buckling to Bolton’s requirements, it appears that Kim wants concessions going the other way. And South Korean officials are worried that while Kim understands what is at stake …
Mr. Moon and his aides reported that Mr. Kim seemed highly conversant with all elements of the program when the two men met, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made similar comments about Mr. Kim, based on his two meetings with him in Pyongyang, the North’s capital.
They are less confident about the man who would sit across the table.
The aides are also concerned about what kind of grasp Mr. Trump has on the details of the North Korea program, and what he must insist upon as the key components of denuclearization.
If the meeting falls apart now with no other actions … North Korea walks away having already demonstrated that it can not only demand, but dismiss, a meeting with the United States. Which gives Kim a nice new set of talking points for state TV, encourages other would-be Kims to set the centrifuges spinning, but doesn’t feed any of the people who are starving in North Korea.
But perhaps most unfortunately, the friction between Trump and Kim over the talks has also resulted in North Korea cancelling the latest round of what had been very hopeful talks with South Korean officials. Maybe the best that could be hoped for would be the United States stepping back and looking for a way to support those talks.
And the committee can just keep that prize on ice.