John Feffer comments on the potential opportunities and pitfalls of the summit with North Korea. This point needs to be emphasized:
In other words, the worst position Trump could take in Singapore would be to demand that North Korea completely and immediately abandon its nuclear weaponry before it receives any benefits from a reduction in global economic sanctions [bold mine-DL]. By contrast, a more gradual timeline for denuclearization could well dovetail with slow-motion reunification. What many Korea watchers insist is a fatal flaw in the Trump-Kim summit — a completely different understanding of what denuclearization entails — might turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Such strategic ambiguity could allow both sides to make interim compromises and embrace an interim reduction in tensions even though they were incapable of really agreeing on the end game.
A gradual timeline might be more acceptable to North Korea and therefore more likely to yield better results, but the Trump administration has been adamant that they won’t entertain anything like that. Secretary Pompeo testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee earlier today, and he laid out the administration’s position like this:
Pompeo on the DPRK plan: "A rapid denuclearisation, total and complete that won't be extended over time." NOT one that "takes place in exchanges that worked along the way, a slow years-long process where in exchange for act X, the US sends a cheque."
— Julian Borger (@julianborger) May 23, 2018
Administration officials keep insisting that the process be “fast” or “rapid,” and everyone that has been paying attention understands that this is a non-starter with the other side. Pompeo is describing the model that Bolton has talked about that we already know North Korea finds completely unacceptable. The differences over denuclearization might provide useful ambiguity that creates space for compromises in the meantime if the process were a slow, drawn-out one, but Trump and his hard-liners want everything wrapped up quickly and they want North Korea to capitulate now in exchange for relief later. They are as impatient as they are inflexible, and they are taking what Feffer correctly describes as the worst position they could possibly take.
The summit next month worries me because there is still a huge gap between the U.S. and North Korean positions, the president is woefully unprepared for the meeting, and the administration has shown no inclination to compromise to keep the diplomatic track with Pyongyang going. The administration has a hard-line all-or-nothing view of diplomacy that makes any meeting they have with an adversary very unlikely to produce anything of value. If we had a well-informed president, an administration that actually valued diplomacy and showed a willingness to make necessary compromises, and a more reasonable set of demands, it would still be a challenge to reach an effective agreement with North Korea that reduced tensions and benefited all parties. As it is, we have none of those things, and that makes it that much more difficult to have a successful summit. When the administration is effectively setting up the summit to fail, it is practically impossible.