As multiple State Department sources have informed me, U.S. demands that North Korea give up its nuclear weapons were always going to be a nonstarter for Kim. Nevertheless, Trump seemed to misinterpret Kim’s overtures, relayed via South Korean President Moon Jae-in, that he would unilaterally disarm, also was reportedly”amazed” and”angered” a week when North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator released a statement to that effect. Based on The New York Times, Trump believes he may have made a mistake in agreeing to meet with Kim, and worries that the summit could turn into a political embarrassment. “It does not look like they want to denuclearize in any way,” a U.S. official informed The Washington Post, after Trump made a frantic call to Moon. “The North’s attitude is a pretty long distance from what it seemed to be Moon portrayed.”
Diplomats and North Korea experts, however, say this was entirely predictable. “Kim Jong Un hasn’t provided to give up his weapons. He has not done that. He has never mentioned anything remotely close to this,” Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at Middlebury College, told me recently. “What he has said is that he’s willing to endorse the type of vague principle of the elimination of atomic weapons.” But Trump, in his enthusiasm over the prospect of a Nobel Peace Prize, inflated his expectations for the June 12 summit. Since Korea expert Victor Cha noted, Kim had”not reaffirmed the definitive statements regarding denuclearization that were utilized from the North Koreans in the past,” during previous discussions with Labour Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. “It all sounds great if you aren’t mindful of what North Korea’s plan is. North Korea in the end, they really do want a peace treaty, and they do need normalization, however they want those things like a nuclear-weapon state…. They’re prepared to part with some of their capability, but they’re certainly not inclined to part with all of it”
It isn’t clear, just, this message got lost, or whether Trump merely misunderstood the context of their negotiations. White House aides told the Times they’re worried the president doesn’t understand the elements of North Korea’s nuclear program–particulars by which Kim is intimately familiar–which Trump”has resisted the kind of detailed briefings regarding enrichment capacities, plutonium reprocessing, nuclear weapons production and missile applications that Mr. Obama and President George W. Bush regularly sat through.” With a shallow bench of foreign-policy experts on his team (there is currently no U.S. ambassador to South Korea, after Victor Cha’s nomination was scuttled before this season ), much of the preparation has dropped to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo–the prior C.I.A. director–and also to national security adviser John Bolton, who’s advocated for regime change in Pyongyang. Many diplomats who know Bolton have told me they think Bolton was purposefully trying to sabotage the possibility for peace when he remarked last month the denuclearization of North Korea must stick to the”Libya model”–a 2003 disarmament agreement that left Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi vulnerable to a 2011 NATO bombing campaign that ended with his passing. (“There is only 1 reason you would ever bring up Libya to the North Koreans,” a current government official told me. “And that is to tell them,’Warning: don’t go any further because we’re going to screw you. ”’)
According to the Times, Bolton has told Trump that he should shove Kim to give his full nuclear arsenal and infrastructure prior to lifting economic sanctions, a precondition that many analysts view as wildly unrealistic. As numerous foreign-policy specialists have told me, however, the best hope for a peace settlement would be an arrangement where North Korea agrees to turn over a number of its nuclear capacity and suspend testing, in exchange for limited U.S. withdrawal from the area.
It remains to be seen whether Trump would be open to this agreement. On Thursday, Trump offered reassurance to the North Koreans that”the Libyan version is not a version that we’ve at all.” But he cautioned that the fate of Libya is”what will take place when we do not make a deal.” Republican hawks in Congress are already threatening that military force will be necessary if the talks fall apart. “A word of caution to North Korean President Kim Jong Un–the worst thing you can do is meet with President Trump in person and attempt to play him,” Senator Lindsey Graham stated in a statement after North Korea cast doubts about the upcoming summit. “If you do so, it will be the end of you–and your regime.”
On Monday, Trump seemed to shift the blame for deteriorating relations to Beijing, tweeting that the border between North Korea and China had recently become”more porous.” Last week, he pointed into Kim’s recent meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping as the moment when North Korea’s position hardened, implying that China–North Korea’s primary trading partnerhad somehow undermined America’s”maximum pressure” strategy.
“Glad to see China back in its original role as scapegoat for incompetent American officials,” Lewis wrote in response to the government’s attempts to finger Xi for what’s rapidly becoming a major diplomatic catastrophe. “I have said from the start that this is a fiasco of the White House’s own manufacturing and we should not let them change the blame Pyongyang. Nobody double-crossed you; Trump is only a moron.”