Mike Pence confirmed again that the administration’s idea of “talking” to North Korea doesn’t mean anything:
Vice President Mike Pence told Axios’ Mike Allen on Wednesday President Trump “always believes in talking [with North Korea], but talking is not negotiating.”
He said nothing will change with North Korea until they give up their pursuit of nuclear weapons [bold mine-DL]. He said they must “completely, verifiably, and completely abandon” its missile programs, and “only then can we consider any change in posture by the United States or the international community.”
The administration’s maximalism may feel satisfying, but it has no chance of reducing tensions or getting North Korea to agree to anything. The insistence that North Korea abandon these programs is as unrealistic as can be. It is not just that North Korea has already invested considerable resources in these programs and would be reluctant to dismantle everything they already have, but they also believe these programs to be essential to their security. Just as our government would not budge on something that it considered vitally important, theirs is not going to budge. More pressure and threats will just make them cling to these programs that much more tightly.
If the U.S. and its allies hope to get anywhere with negotiating limits on either of these programs, they are going to have to accept that the programs themselves aren’t going to disappear. If there is any chance of establishing some sort of verification mechanism to ensure that North Korea complies with negotiated restrictions, they need to believe that the U.S. and its allies are going to honor their end of any bargain. The U.S. and its allies will also have to be willing to offer North Korea something in exchange, and it is probably going to have to be more significant than a guarantee not to attack them. The U.S. and its allies won’t find out what the price of limiting North Korea’s weapons and missile programs will be until they enter into real negotiations with the other side, and it is only then that they can make an informed decision as to whether they are willing to pay that price. The empty “talks” that the Trump administration are grudgingly accepting won’t get us there, and we have to assume that the administration knows that.
Demanding that North Korea abandon these programs reminds me of the demand made to Iran that they agree to zero enrichment as a condition for sanctions relief. Iran was never going to accept giving up all enrichment, and as long as the U.S. and its allies required that they surrender something that they believed they were entitled to there was never a real chance of reaching a compromise on the nuclear issue. In the end, the U.S. and the other members of the P5+1 agreed to drop that demand as part of a larger agreement that included Iran’s acceptance of other restrictions. If the U.S. and the other powers hadn’t been willing to modify that demand, it is very unlikely that there would have been a successful negotiation. Until the U.S. and its allies give up on demanding things that are never going to happen, we shouldn’t expect any change on the North Korean side, either.