The U.S. will have to set its sights much lower for the Singapore summit if it hopes to get anything from the meeting:
Those who have dealt with North Korea most intensively say that expectation will have to be scaled back if Mr. Trump expects success.
“If Trump is truly expecting to see a handover of nuclear weapons in six months, without anything in return, that is very unrealistic,” said Joseph Yun, the State Department’s North Korea coordinator until he retired a few months ago. He predicted that Mr. Trump would be forced into the kind of step-by-step measures that his predecessors attempted, “because there is no other way.”
The Trump administration has to a large extent trapped itself with its own maximalist demands. Administration officials have publicly and repeatedly defined success in such outlandish, unrealistic terms for so long that they will be hard-pressed to present anything less as a good result. It would have been much better if they had started with lower-level talks and built up towards a summit later on, and it seems clear now that it would be better to postpone the summit to do the preparatory work that any successful summit requires. Diplomatic engagement with adversaries often takes time and effort, and it doesn’t deliver easy and quick results, but it is worth doing. If Trump just wants a quick “win” that he can use to distract attention from his other problems, he isn’t going to support a long, involved diplomatic process that probably won’t be concluded before the next presidential election. That may explain why he jumped at the chance for a meeting with Kim.
If the administration’s demands are wildly unrealistic, what should the U.S. be trying to achieve in the near term through diplomacy with North Korea? James Clapper just made an interesting suggestion for what the U.S. should do instead of pushing for denuclearization first:
We should set aside for a minute our demand that they disarm before any other negotiation. We should meet their demand to sign a peace treaty, and establish a physical presence in Pyongyang, an office staffed by Americans who can interact with North Korean citizens. We could model it on the “interests section” we maintained in Havana for decades.
It would not be a reward for bad behavior, but an opportunity for access, which would enhance our understanding and enable the flow of information from the rest of the world.
Negotiating a formal peace treaty would be a significant improvement over the status quo. It would greatly reduce the risk of renewed war on the peninsula, and it would enhance the security of the U.S. and our allies. There is a good chance that all parties would agree to formally ending the war, so it is something that might actually be achieved in the near future. If the Trump administration keeps chasing after North Korea’s denuclearization instead, they will be frittering away an opportunity for a real diplomatic success.