On the day that their talks in Hanoi collapsed last month, U.S. President Donald Trump handed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a piece of paper that included a blunt call for the transfer of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and bomb fuel to the United States, according to the document seen by Reuters.
The Reuters report is consistent with what we had already heard about the cause of the summit’s collapse, and it makes clear that Trump and Bolton were the ones responsible for making a demand that at least Bolton assumed and hoped would cause a breakdown in talks. The narrative that Trump walked away from a “bad deal” was wrong. The president torpedoed his own negotiations by heeding the advice of a man who hates arms control agreements and has always wanted engagement with North Korea to fail. Bolton has consistently favored making impossible demands of North Korea in order to derail diplomacy, and that is exactly what happened in Hanoi.
The requirements laid out in Bolton’s document were very extensive, and far more intrusive than the terms of the nuclear deal with Iran:
Aside from the call for the transfer of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and bomb fuel, the document had four other key points.
It called on North Korea to provide a comprehensive declaration of its nuclear program and full access to U.S. and international inspectors; to halt all related activities and construction of any new facilities; to eliminate all nuclear infrastructure; and to transition all nuclear program scientists and technicians to commercial activities.
If a state without nuclear weapons wouldn’t accept such onerous demands, why would a nuclear-armed North Korea be willing to consider any of this? The administration has been trying to get North Korea to agree to the complete abandonment of its entire nuclear program and not just its nuclear weapons, so is it any wonder that they have made no progress?
The report went on to say this:
The document was meant to provide the North Koreans with a clear and concise definition of what the United States meant by “final, fully verifiable, denuclearization,” the source familiar with discussions said.
North Korea has understood what the U.S. meant by this for a long time, and they have flatly rejected it every time it has been proposed to them. North Korea isn’t disarming, and it definitely isn’t disarming unilaterally. The large gap between the U.S. and North Korean positions doesn’t exist because of North Korea’s failure to understand what the U.S. wants from them. They understand very well what the U.S. is seeking, and it is a non-starter for them. Unless the U.S. is prepared to make more modest and reasonable demands, the North Koreans will keep rejecting offers that require them to give up everything. As long as Bolton is involved in the process and setting the terms, the U.S. isn’t going to reduce its demands and the talks will go nowhere. That is what was always going to happen if the U.S. insisted on unrealistic goals and maximalist demands, and the Trump administration still insists on both.