U.S.–North Korea talks hit stalemate
President Trump abruptly canceled a planned trip to North Korea this week by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a signal of his growing frustration with deadlocked talks over dictator Kim Jong Un’s nuclear weapons program. Just a day before Pompeo was due to set off on his fourth visit to Pyongyang, Trump tweeted that he had nixed the diplomatic mission because “we are not making sufficient progress” on denuclearization. The president had reportedly been angered by a letter sent to Pompeo by top North Korean officials, which warned that negotiations “may fall apart” because the U.S. wasn’t honoring commitments made by Trump at his Singapore meeting with Kim in June. North Korea wants the U.S. to declare an official end to the Korean War, but the Trump administration is insisting that Pyongyang first provide a full account of its nuclear arsenal and surrender most of its warheads.
Trump tweeted after the June summit that Kim’s regime was “no longer a Nuclear Threat,” but the International Atomic Energy Agency—the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog—said this week that the North was continuing its development of nuclear material. In a further sign of mounting U.S.–North Korea tensions, Defense Secretary James Mattis said that he had no plans to halt future U.S.–South Korean military exercises on the peninsula. Trump had suspended what he called “war games” with Seoul in June as a sign of good faith to Kim.
What the columnists said
Once again, “the president pulled the rug out from under his own negotiators,” said Michael Fuchs in NewRepublic.com. From the moment he impulsively agreed to meet with Kim without any concessions from the tyrant, he has “deincentivized any movement on the North Koreans’ side.” He could have used the cancelation of the Pompeo trip to ramp up pressure on Pyongyang. But after announcing that the meeting was scrapped, he tweeted his “warmest regards to Chairman Kim.”
Still, the president was right to cancel this meeting, said Joshua Keating in Slate.com. No progress is going to be made until both sides can agree on exactly what was agreed on in Singapore. Right now, the U.S. says Kim pledged to give up his nukes; North Korea thinks it signed up only for a general denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which would involve U.S. forces pulling out. With Trump and Kim at loggerheads, “letting both sides cool off for a moment and seeing what the North Koreans might be willing to concede” seems more sensible than sending Pompeo off to be insulted.
It’d be wiser to call off the whole diplomatic farce, said Jennifer Rubin in WashingtonPost.com. Pompeo has absurdly claimed to Congress that his past visits to Pyongyang were productive, even though “we’ve gotten zilch for our concession on military exercises and for elevating and flattering Kim.” Pompeo likely didn’t want to humiliate his boss by revealing that Trump’s “nauseating bowing and scraping in Singapore” only empowered the dictator. It’s time for the administration to accept that it’s been played—and that “North Korea never had any intention of denuclearizing.”