Maybe there’s a ray of hope for the president to evolve into a statesman and a diplomat. Most of his critics expected him to sign any deal with North Korea to register a political win. Trump wisely resisted.
Now all of the political back seat drivers are saying that Trump is not negotiating with Kim Jong-un in an appropriate manner. Traditionally summits are preceded by intense negotiations between lower level diplomats. And when the principals get together, it’s a mere formality.
This form of negotiation enables the parties to have an additional chance to make a deal. If the underlings are stymied, the heads of state can sometimes find a way to close.
But we must appreciate the nature of the principals trying to craft a nuclear proliferation arrangement that is important to the world.
First of all Kim is the undisputed leader of his country. His underlings are mere sycophants with no real decision-making power. North Korea does not have an extensive diplomatic corps because it only has relations with a few countries. Kim is the only person who matters and his aides are petrified about overstepping their limited authority. It could easily cause them to be demoted at best or to lose their lives at worst. You must deal directly with Kim to advance a deal.
Of course we know that Trump thinks he’s the king of deal making. After all he wrote a book on the subject. Yet his negotiating acumen is really the only relevant thing when dealing with Kim. Sending in subordinates would have no impact on a deal of such great magnitude.
It’s ironic that liberals in Congress, who could not even negotiate their way past a $5 billion immigration expenditure, are critical of Trump who is negotiating a deal that could prevent a nuclear World War III.
It was smart for Trump to politely say the options afforded to him by Kim were not satisfactory. It should be clear that North Korea is going to be subjected to harmful economic sanction until it relents and agrees to denuclearization with verification.
The real problem with the negotiations may be that Trump and his negotiating team are not appropriately emphasizing the most important issues facing North Korea if it does not sign an accord.
Sanctions are a good starting point. North Korea is experiencing great economic stress every day because of sanctions imposed by the US. The country’s economy is crashing and the people are suffering through shortages of food and energy. The country will not be able to advance economically until it agrees to end its nuclear program. The ramifications of this dilemma are monstrous for Kim. At some point his people will revolt and his regime will fall.
Kim doesn’t seem to have a good perspective about ownership of nuclear weapons. He mistakenly believes that nukes give him staying power against aggressive actions by the US and even China. This is dead wrong. North Korea could be obliterated in a few hours by either of these countries. In fact the nukes in reality are an existential threat to Kim personally and to his country.
And finally Kim is discounting the rewards of having the US as an ally. An economic arrangement with the US could enable Kim to build a truly viable and thriving country and decrease North Korea’s dependence on China and its own military. The money spent on the latter could be diverted to great programs to benefit North Koreans. This alone would entrench his regime and protect it from internal strife.
The efforts to denuclearize North Korea are still in the early stages. The problems of moving forward are easy to identify, but difficult to solve. Trump must convince Kim that he and North Korea will be much stronger without nukes than with them.