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Trump Doesn’t Have North Korea ‘Cornered’

North Korea's behavior is not that of a government that feels trapped, but rather one that feels supremely confident that it has the advantage.
Trump Kim Jong-un

Marc Thiessen’s “analysis” of Trump’s handling of North Korea is predictably not worth much:

In other words, Trump and his national security team have put Kim in a corner, offering him peace, security and prosperity, but only if he first denuclearizes completely, verifiably and irreversibly. Little wonder that North Korea is lashing out.

Outsiders can only speculate about why North Korea’s government does anything, but it seems unlikely that they have objected so strenuously to the latest U.S.-South Korean military exercises and attacked John Bolton by name because they feel “cornered.” North Korea has been dictating the pace and terms of engagement with both Seoul and Washington for the last several months. Their possession of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them against U.S. targets puts the current North Korean government in a stronger negotiating position than its predecessors ever were. North Korea has ample reason to distrust any offer that the Trump administration makes, not least because it just reneged on a nuclear deal with Iran and top U.S. officials keep floating a “Libya model” that the North Koreans see as a prelude to attack. North Korea is not so much “lashing out” as it is telling South Korea and the U.S. that their actions and terms are unacceptable, and that if they want negotiations to proceed they will have to change both. This is not the behavior of a government that feels trapped, but rather one that feels supremely confident that it has the advantage.

The larger problem with Thiessen’s “analysis” is that it fails to grasp that North Korea’s government won’t accept the “offer” Trump is making because accepting it means giving up the one thing that does more to guarantee the regime’s security than any promise that the U.S. could ever make. Trump talked about giving Kim “very strong protections” if he agreed to get rid of the nuclear weapons, but there are no protections that the U.S. could offer that would be any stronger than the ones he currently possesses. Kim is coming to the summit as the leader of a nuclear-weapons state conducting talks at the highest level with the global superpower, and he isn’t going to agree to give up that status in exchange for obviously worthless promises from Donald Trump. The more that the Trump administration and its boosters delude themselves into thinking that they have North Korea on the defensive, the worse the summit will go for the U.S. and its allies.



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