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Time Is Almost Up for Trump on North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets with U.S. President Donald Trump during the Singapore summit June 12.

The Trump administration’s North Korea policy continues to suffer from the same maximalist demands and Bolton’s malign influence as always:

The position Bolton describes in this interview is the same one that he has been pushing for years, and it is the one that torpedoed the Hanoi summit. The so-called “big deal” is not a deal at all, but rather a demand that North Korea surrender everything first. Only then can they expect to receive anything in return. That is a non-starter with the North Koreans, to put it mildly. The administration will be lucky if they end up getting North Korea to agree to even the smallest concessions at this rate. One big problem is that Bolton continues to dictate the substance of the administration’s demands, and those demands are so far-reaching that they are sure to be rejected. As long as the administration is committed to thinking of talks with North Korea as an all-or-nothing proposition, they will be left with nothing and North Korea will continue expanding its arsenal.

Bolton keeps saying that Trump won’t make the mistakes of his predecessors, but what he calls mistakes everyone else calls necessary compromises. Previous administrations were unsuccessful in preventing North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons, and they have been unsuccessful in getting North Korea to give up those weapons, but when they were willing to offer North Korea something in exchange for concessions they did, in fact, get something for their trouble. The Agreed Framework that Bolton likes to trash and that he was instrumental in killing is one example of how a previous administration had much more success in their negotiations with North Korea than Trump has had over the last fourteen months. Trump is avoiding the mistakes of his predecessors by making different, easily avoidable mistakes that are squandering this opportunity to negotiate some limits on North Korea’s arsenal.

South Korean politicians from President Moon’s party are now calling attention to the fact that time is running out:

“The problem should be dealt with by the end of the year,” Song Young-gil, a South Korean lawmaker and member of President Moon’s Democratic Party, told VOA. “Mr. Trump may say timing doesn’t matter, but there isn’t enough time.”

North Korea has set an end-of-year deadline for the U.S. to change its approach to the talks, which have been stalled since a Trump-Kim summit in February broke down over how to pair sanctions relief with steps to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program.

Bolton’s remarks show that the administration has been ignoring North Korea’s statements over the past six months. There is no question of North Korea making a decision to “give up nuclear weapons,” and the continued insistence on this by the U.S. tells the North Korean government that there is nothing else to talk about. There haven’t been any “substantive negotiations” at any level since the meeting at Panmunjom because North Korea has repeatedly called for the U.S. to change its approach after Hanoi and the U.S. has refused to do that. The U.S. has only until the end of the year to make the necessary changes, and there has been no movement in that direction for the last six months. We can safely assume that no change is forthcoming in the next four. Trump’s North Korea policy remains hopelessly bogged down by the administration’s unreasonable demands and unrealistic goals, and the president has wasted more than a year on meaningless photo ops that achieved nothing.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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