January 21, 2019 13:09
U.S. President Donald Trump met for an hour and a half at the White House last weekend with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's right-hand man, Kim Yong-chol and agreed to hold a second summit around the end of February. Contrary to expectations, Trump did not reveal the exact time and location, which U.S. media attributed to a failure by the two sides to see eye to eye on the scope of denuclearization and follow-up steps by the U.S. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee said the meeting was "productive" but added, "The United States is going to continue to keep pressure and sanctions on North Korea until we see fully and verified denuclearization." The North clearly did not offer what the U.S. wants in the way of denuclearization.
This shows how long the road ahead will be. Yet Trump crowed about his achievement as usual. "Looking forward to meeting with Chairman Kim at end of February!" he tweeted. "The Media is not giving us credit for the tremendous progress we have made with North Korea. Think of where we were at the end of the Obama Administration compared to now." Trump seems determined to use the summit with Kim as a diversion to all of his domestic political woes like the unprecedented government shutdown.
He did essentially the same thing when he announced the date of his first summit with Kim without sufficient fine-tuning of key points by working-level officials. As a result, North Korea was able to drag its heels and do nothing, even though Trump promised to halt joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises in return for a vague promise from Kim to "work toward" denuclearization.
The resumption of U.S.-North Korean dialogue, which has been in stalemate for more than six months, is a positive development. But such talks will be meaningful only if there is at least some progress in North Korean denuclearization. A pledge from Kim should precede any second summit, but instead the White House is hurrying into it without the slightest certainty that it can achieve palpable results. Will it end up as no more than an extended photo op like the last one?
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