Trump and Kim will meet next week in Hanoi for their second summit, and it appears that the administration still doesn’t understand that North Korean disarmament isn’t going to happen:

One of the officials said the U.S. hopes to make rapid progress toward Kim’s regime giving up its nuclear arsenal, rather than incremental steps, and that the U.S. seeks a declaration providing a full accounting of North Korea’s nuclear forces and facilities — a move that analysts say is necessary in order to verify any steps the country takes to disarm.

North Korea isn’t going to give up its arsenal, and it is very unlikely to make any concessions if the administration insists on a “rapid” pace. The administration needs to face up to the reality that North Korean disarmament isn’t happening. If it doesn’t, it will waste its opportunity to negotiate with North Korea on more limited, achievable goals of capping and possibly reducing their arsenal. Unfortunately, because Bolton is dead-set against anything short of North Korea’s capitulation it is not very likely that the administration will settle for a modest arms control agreement.

There could be some progress on non-nuclear issues at the summit, but there is intense resistance inside the administration to going that route. There is sharp disagreement between the administration’s envoy, Stephen Biegun, and the hard-liners in the administration that are opposed to any realistic agreement:

Hawks such as Bolton have fiercely opposed this “step-by-step” process in favor of maintaining maximum pressure through economic sanctions that would, in theory, force a better deal by eroding North Korea’s resolve.

Bolton has fretted privately that Biegun’s team is too eager for a deal, and he continues to believe the negotiations will fail, according to people familiar with the deliberations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the tensions within the administration.

Bolton has never wanted successful diplomacy with North Korea, so of course he is against doing anything that might have a chance of succeeding. “Maximum pressure” wasn’t what brought North Korea to the table, and it isn’t going to “force a better deal.” In fact, the longer that the U.S. relies on sanctions to try to force North Korea into bigger concessions, the less incentive North Korea has to agree to anything. Kim can see as well as anyone else how quickly and arbitrarily the U.S. backtracks on promises of sanctions relief. Why would North Korea put itself in the position of complying with an agreement only to have sanctions relief ripped away a year or two later? Even if North Korea made and honored real commitments to the U.S., it could not count on this administration to keep its side of the bargain.

Unless the administration gives up on the fantasy of disarming North Korea, none of these summit meetings is going to be very productive. The Trump administration remains fixated on the wrong thing, and its all-or-nothing approach to diplomacy pretty much guarantees that it will once again come away with nothing.

Advertisement