Trump-Kim summit plans muddle forward
American and North Korean diplomats scrambled this week to salvage a potential summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un after the meeting was abruptly canceled and then uncanceled by the White House. President Trump briefly called off the talks in an open letter addressed to Kim last week, citing “tremendous anger and open hostility” in statements from North Korean officials, including one who threatened a “nuclear-to-nuclear showdown” if the talks fail. The North Koreans were particularly angered by remarks from Vice President Mike Pence and national security adviser John Bolton suggesting a “Libya model” for dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program. But North Korea appeared conciliatory after Trump’s letter, with Kim making a surprise appearance with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Panmunjom “truce village” in the Korean Demilitarized Zone.
Administration officials now say they are continuing to “actively prepare” for the June 12 summit in Singapore. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met in New York City this week with Gen. Kim Yong Chol, one of Kim Jong Un’s most trusted advisers. “We have put a great team together for our talks with North Korea,” Trump tweeted. “Solid response to my letter, thank you!” But the two sides remain far apart on the issue of denuclearization. A CIA report obtained by NBC News this week concluded that North Korea has no intention of conceding its nuclear weapons, though it notes that Kim has considered allowing a U.S. hamburger chain to open in Pyongyang as a goodwill gesture.
What the columnists said
Trump’s hot-cold approach to negotiations with North Korea is “shocking even by his standards,” said John Cassidy in NewYorker.com. The president initially pulled out of the meeting without first notifying South Korea and Japan, our two closest allies in the region. Trump no doubt thinks he’s driving a hard bargain with his unpredictable behavior. But to everyone else, he’s “behaving erratically on a matter of existential importance.”
The ill-advised summit with North Korea should have stayed canceled, said Harry Kazianis in FoxNews.com. Trump clearly hungers for a deal to secure his legacy. But Pyongyang has a long history of using negotiations to stall for time and win concessions while continuing to build up its nuclear program. Trump should refuse to meet with Kim unless he offers “a firm pledge to abandon” his weapons. “We need more than a photo op.”
There’s reason for optimism here, said Fred Kaplan in Slate.com. Getting Kim to abandon his nuclear arsenal, his only source of leverage, is a pipe dream. But the meetings between Pompeo and high-level North Korean officials suggest a new level of seriousness that didn’t exist before. Short-term steps such as minor sanctions relief and “the destruction of a warhead or two” could go a long way toward laying the groundwork for productive talks in the future. “If President Trump can give up his Nobel-laced daydreams of instant peace and, instead, live with a modest reduction of tension, then the summit might end in success.”