President Trump met with North Korean dictator Kim on February 27, 2019, for their second “summit” to address decades old security issues on the Korean peninsula. President Trump apparently left the meeting 2 hours early because there was not going to be any agreement. That was the good part – the President did not enter into a weak or even catastrophic agreement just to make a deal. Although preparation would likely have prevented such a waste of resources, at least Trump listened to Secretary of State Pompeo and refused to sign the bad deal. The failure was the incredibly foolish trip itself.
There was no realistic chance of ever having a deal from this trip. Kim had the upper hand based on the first meeting. Briefly restated, Trump gave Kim major concessions including the very act of meeting on a public, world stage. That gave Kim the legitimacy he and his predecessors have craved for generations and no other President foolishly provided. Trump routinely drones on about “our great flag” but allowed it to be used as a prop alongside the North Korean flag on now two illegitimate world stages. Trump also ended the decades long military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea which had been a critical and effective mechanism for enhancing the ability for us to cooperate in case of military conflict. These were the two biggest things Kim wanted. Trump gave them away without any concessions in return. Trump was also willing to give North Korea the beginnings of an economy by lifting some sanctions and allowing some development and investment. That would have been catastrophic without a comprehensive agreement on nuclear weapons that resolves the crisis.
The biggest impediment to an agreement is the lack of understanding or agreement concerning the term “denuclearization.” Rightly or wrongly, North Korea has consistently believed that term to include the removal of all U.S. troops and equipment from the peninsula, not simply the removal of nuclear weapons. The U.S., et al, more credibly has believed denuclearization to mean the removal of nuclear weapons but not the removal of all U.S. troops and equipment. North Korea has previously walked away from or reneged on “deals” with the U.S. because of this different understanding and after they were expected to dismantle their nuclear weapons program while U.S. troops remained on the peninsula. Consequently, there was never an understanding between Trump and Kim and their first meeting and there was not going to be one at this meeting.
According to President Trump, he left the meeting without a deal because Kim demanded that all sanctions be removed. Kim disputes this, claiming the lack of agreement was based on them wanting some sanctions lifted in exchange for dismantling one nuclear installation. Makes little difference. Trump was correct to walk away under either scenario. It is imperative to reach an agreement and resolve this crisis that threatens the peninsula, the U.S., Japan, and the region. So much rides on a peaceful solution. Bilateral talks between Trump and Kim will not work. Trump ceded too much, including frequent comments about their “special relationship,” and Kim is not likely to make the necessary concessions to him. Japan, South Korea, and China may need to be brought back in. Some say Russia should be part of the process, which is a valid point because Putin has been offering to build nuclear plants with North Korea on the Russian side of their border. The U.S. needs to immediately restore the military exercises with South Korea. They are necessary, we need to remove Kim’s win on that issue, and hopefully this moves some leverage back to the U.S.
Unfortunately, this meeting was a not so veiled effort by President Trump to shamefully try and win a Nobel Peace Prize. Other Presidents, specifically Obama, won the prize and this is about Trump’s disgusting ego. He was so determined to win the prize that he was willing to make a bad deal with Kim to garner support. Thankfully the deal was so bad that Trump had to walk away. We can thank Secretary Pompeo in large part for preventing a bad deal. Can we count on Pompeo and Trump going forward?