Last June’s historic first meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore left some positive developments in its wake.
North Korea extended a moratorium on testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. The United States, North Korea and South Korea are talking more about peaceful coexistence than about nuclear annihilation.
Forensic examinations show that boxes of bodies Pyongyang turned over as a goodwill gesture contain remains of U.S. troops from the Korean War. And Trump’s multilateral “maximum pressure” sanctions remain in place, if a little shaky.
But heading into this week’s follow-up summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, a mountain of unfinished business remains.
Despite a vague promise in Singapore to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the rogue regime continues to clandestinely produce nuclear fuel for bombs and expand its ballistic missile program, building more operating sites. It clings to an arsenal of 30 to 60 nuclear bombs, and the cumulative assessment by U.S. spy agencies is that Kim never intends to give up these weapons.
REP. BABIN: President has made unthinkable progress
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made clear on Sunday that North Korea remains a nuclear threat, in stark contrast to Trump’s assertion after Singapore that “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”
Trump is placing considerable stock in a chemistry he says he developed with the North Korean leader. “We fell in love,” Trump told a rally last year.
While personal rapport is an important aspect of international diplomacy, “love” is an odd way to describe a dictator who runs one of the world’s most barbaric regimes, where every aspect of 26 million lives is controlled by the state, and where dissent is crushed with public executions and work camps into which 80,000 to 120,000 citizens have disappeared.
Meanwhile, there has been little or no negotiating progress since Singapore, despite interim efforts by Pompeo and Stephen Biegun, the special envoy to North Korea. Trump has his work cut out for him as he sits down again with Kim this week. Priorities should include:
►An accounting of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, a fundamental first step.
►A definition of what, precisely, denuclearization means to Kim. Pyongyang wants it to include stripping the region of U.S. strategic and nuclear assets — a non-starter.
►A comprehensive road map going forward, spelling out what steps North Korea will take to denuclearize in exchange for U.S. reciprocation such as opening up liaison offices between capitals and perhaps declaring an end to the 1950-53 Korean War, which has remained in armistice status for decades.
Particularly concerning is Trump’s infatuation with diplomatic flash over substance and his desire for a deal he could use to distract from negative headlines at home about the Mueller investigation and public testimony of ex-fixer Michael Cohen.
Trump heralded the Singapore results, as vague as they turned out to be. And he covets a Nobel Peace Prize for his limited efforts (his staff successfully solicited a nomination for the prize from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last year, according to Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper).
If, eventually, there’s tangible and verifiable progress that persuades Kim to relinquish horrible weapons of mass destruction, then we can talk Nobel. Until then, the prize is as premature as the one awarded to Trump’s predecessor.
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