North Korea: Why Trump walked on Kim
When it comes to negotiating with nuclear-armed North Korea, no deal is better than a bad deal, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. President Trump made that much clear last week at his second summit with dictator Kim Jong Un in Vietnam. “Kim came to Hanoi with a familiar offer.” He would dismantle his country’s nuclear complex at Yongbyon in return for the lifting of major sanctions. But that would have left intact Kim’s other nuclear enrichment facilities, his arsenal of up to 60 nuclear bombs, and his missiles, which can deliver warheads deep into the U.S. mainland. Recognizing the threat such a pact would pose to the U.S., Trump walked away on the summit’s second day. “One can quibble about Trump’s negotiating style”—especially his buttering up of the tyrant—but when it counted, he made the right call.
Kim totally misread Trump, said Fred Kaplan in Slate.com. He thought the president was so desperate for a deal—“for a place in history and a distraction from his domestic troubles”—that he’d accept anything. But Trump should not have let this “near-inevitable disaster go forward in the first place.” He ignored the fact that his handpicked team of diplomats had secured zero concessions on denuclearization from the North Koreans during months of talks, “believing he could fix everything in face-to-face banter.” Trump’s diplomacy with Kim has been based on “a fantasy,” said Jackson Diehl in The Washington Post. The president thinks the North will trade its nukes for the chance to become an economic powerhouse like South Korea. But Kim—who operates vast concentration camps and uses anti-aircraft guns to execute rivals—would rather keep his nukes than feed his people. “He knows that his regime would not exist without them; nor could the totalitarian system survive economic modernization.”
Trump’s options are now severely limited, said Richard Fontaine in TheAtlantic.com. He threatened “fire and fury” and Kim refused to scrap his nukes, and now two chummy leader-to-leader summits have failed to produce a breakthrough. Trump says that talks will continue at lower levels, but with denuclearization unlikely, the U.S. must now focus on deterrence. That means stepping up sanctions on Kim’s inner circle, improving missile defenses in South Korea and Japan, and hacking Pyongyang’s weapons programs. Yes, this is the same strategy employed by previous administrations and it won’t solve the problem of North Korea. “It might, however, contain it.” ■