The failure of President Donald Trump’s summit meeting with Kim Jong Un revealed the fundamental weakness of Trump’s strategy for addressing the growing nuclear threat from North Korea. The president supposed that his personal and improvisational diplomacy, featuring unwarranted and unseemly flattery of a murderous tyrant, would make possible the substantive steps toward disarmament that the regime has resisted for decades. Instead, he was presented by Kim with a patently unacceptable offer that left him no choice but to walk away.
It’s good that he did walk away, but Trump’s miscalculation leaves U.S.-North Korean relations in disarray, even as the regime continues to produce material for weapons and long-range missiles capable of striking the United States. It calls for a fundamental reshaping of the U.S. approach — one that is more realistic about the nature of the Kim regime, including its horrific human-rights violations.
If the administration had pursued a more substantive approach to the negotiations, Kim would have known the position he brought to Hanoi was a nonstarter. By Trump’s account, the 35-year-old ruler offered to shut down the North’s Yongbyon nuclear complex in exchange for the removal of all sanctions — something that would have left his regime in possession of other nuclear facilities, not to mention its existing arsenal. Pyongyang has twice before struck deals to close Yongbyon, only to renege.
Even if its closure were guaranteed in this instance, it would fall far short of the minimum the U.S. should require for the lifting of sanctions.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE WASHINGTON POST