The Push for a Trump-Kim Nuke Deal Is Far From Over
This week’s summit in Hanoi between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was a bust for Trump. After much ballyhooing, he made no demonstrable progress toward reducing the nuclear and conventional threat North Korea poses to the United States and its allies South Korea and Japan. He diminished his diplomatic standing and credibility, and by extension that of the United States, by coming away with nothing. This round of negotiations should have taken place at the working level, carried out by Stephen Biegun, Trump’s special envoy for North Korea, alongside experts from the State, Defense, and Energy departments. Failure at that level would have gone close to unnoticed and could have been more convincingly described as part of an ongoing process.
Trump did, however, avoid seriously damaging U.S. national security interests. According to the account Trump and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave at their press conference in Hanoi Thursday morning, the United States refused to lift all sanctions on North Korea in exchange for the destruction or shuttering of the North Korean nuclear facility at Yongbyon. As a former Senate Armed Services Committee staffer who toured the facility in 2008, after the George W. Bush administration had negotiated its dismantling, only to see it reconstituted and expanded after Pyongyang pulled out of talks months later, this strikes me as wise. Washington should not trade its best leverage—unilateral and U.N. sanctions—for actions that North Korea can easily reverse.