There is no way in hell Trump should meet with Kim Jong Un

The case against inviting the devil to the White House

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
(Image credit: AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

If you wanted to find hell on Earth, you could not do much better than North Korea. So if President Donald Trump has any ideas about negotiating one-on-one with the leader of the so-called hermit kingdom, he should know this: He might as well be dealing with Lucifer himself.

When you step back and consider the amount of human suffering the Kim regime has subjected its own people to — all to control the population and ensure the survival of a government that has no business existing in the first place — you have to wonder how such a regime can survive under the weight of its own sins.

Just how nasty is the North Korean government? Some shameful facts and statistics President Trump should consider before he has tea and crumpets with Kim Jong Un:

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  • Today, according to most experts, somewhere between 120,000 to 200,000 people or more are locked away in prison camps — more like concentration camps, according to many defectors that have lived to talk about them. The abuses in such camps — like forced viewing of the most vile methods of torture or executions, forced abortions, and brutal starvation — seem stolen from the pages of Nazi Germany.
  • According to one highly cited estimate, 25 percent who enter a prison camp die of disease.
  • Many experts claim that at least 200,000 people or more have died in such camps over the last six decades. Some go further, such as Georgetown Professor Victor Cha in his must-read book on North Korea The Impossible State, which claims that as many as one million people have died in North Korean gulags.
  • As Pyongyang pursued atomic weapons in the 1990s, as many as 2.5 million people died of starvation, thanks to a terrible famine.
  • While the worst of the famine has largely passed, 10 million people are still undernourished with as many as 18 million dependent on food rations. But Kim Jong Un presses ahead building his military machine. North Korea fields the world's fourth largest army with over 4,300 tanks, 200,000 special forces troops, and thousands of tons of chemical weapons that could kill countless people.

So while President Trump might consider it "an honor" to meet the leader who should instead be meeting with prosecutors at The Hague, he needs to know the facts as they are.

Now, does that mean the Trump administration should not meet with North Korean officials at all and rule out all talks whatsoever? As much as it pains me to say it, no.

Again, the facts matter. Pyongyang is racing towards developing a world-class nuclear arsenal and already has the ability to kill millions of people in South Korea, Japan, or unleash atomic terror against U.S. bases in the Asia-Pacific region. And Kim seems certain in the next few years to gain the ultimate weapon, a missile that can hold at bay the U.S. homeland with a nuclear warhead. It is, indeed, the most frightening of prospects.

Then why even bother talking to Pyongyang, considering its horrendous human rights record and growing ability to spread misery around the world?

While it seems highly unlikely that even the most skilled diplomat could convince North Korea to give up its nuclear or missile programs, having some sort of open dialogue with Pyongyang could be beneficial even if there are no immediate deliverables. Think about it: What if someday we are at the razor's edge of a crisis and war seems near imminent — thanks to an errant North Korean missile or an incident along the demilitarized zone starts to spiral out of control. At least Washington and Seoul will have someone in Pyongyang to call in an effort to avoid a Second Korean War. That alone would be big progress.

But if America should be willing to sit down with the representatives of "hell," why not just sit down with Kim himself, cut out the middlemen and negotiate directly?

The simple fact is that in one handshake, in one photo that would go viral around the world, President Trump would be legitimizing one of the world's most evil human beings and governments of all time, indeed, what one North Korean refugee described to me once as his people's "own personal Hitler." While certainly not intentional, the Trump administration would be sending a signal that things like prison camps, torture, the use of chemical weapons against your own citizens, and centuries of human rights norms could be just cast aside in order to "cut a deal."

Take this all a step further. Imagine President Trump and Dictator Kim walking side by side in the halls of the White House or along the boulevards of North Korea's capital. That should turn your stomach. There could be nothing viler than the leader of the free world making small talk with the pariah of Pyongyang. And that is why it should never happen.

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Harry J. Kazianis

Harry J. Kazianis is director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, founded by former U.S. President Richard M. Nixon.