Trump’s meet­ing with Kim Jong Un poses risks

The Daily Observer - - OPINION - JAMES TROTTIER

The an­nounce­ment that Don­ald Trump had agreed to a sum­mit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un caught ev­ery­one by sur­prise. It was clas­sic Trump: Act first, think later.

His de­ci­sion was driven by Trump’s im­pul­sive per­son­al­ity, a re­al­ity TV view of the world, an ob­ses­sion with do­ing the op­po­site of past pres­i­dents and the con­vic­tion that he is an un­matched deal-maker.

This was not part of a long-term strat­egy. The U.S. is now scram­bling to find of­fi­cials in the de­pleted State Depart­ment with the ex­per­tise to pre­pare for the sum­mit.

By con­trast, the sum­mit is the cul­mi­na­tion of a long-term strat­egy by Kim to de­velop his nu­clear arse­nal, with­stand sanc­tions and come to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble with a strong hand.

In agree­ing to the meet­ing, Trump up­ended long-stand­ing U.S. pol­icy. The U.S. has in­sisted for years it would not talk to North Korea un­less North Korea made a com­mit­ment to ir­re­versible de­nu­cle­ariza­tion.

In this case, all North Korea has agreed to is what it has pro­posed to past ad­min­is­tra­tions: A vague will­ing­ness to dis­cuss de­nu­cle­ariza­tion in re­turn for an un­de­fined se­cu­rity guar­an­tee for North Korea.

The long­time U.S. po­si­tion was re­it­er­ated by Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son just hours be­fore the an­nounce­ment of the sum­mit when he said that it would be pre­ma­ture to con­sider talks in the ab­sence of such a ver­i­fi­able com­mit­ment.

U.S. diplo­matic prac­tice is that be­fore any ne­go­ti­a­tions, there are ex­haus­tive in­ter-agency con­sul­ta­tions fol­lowed by de­vel­op­ment of a de­tailed ne­go­ti­at­ing plan.

In the case of the Iran agree­ment, the U.S. ne­go­ti­at­ing doc­u­ment ran to 100 pages. In this case, the U.S. will be hard-pressed to de­velop a de­tailed ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion prior to the sum­mit, let alone get Trump to fol­low it.

Pre­lim­i­nary diplo­matic ne­go­ti­a­tions are al­ways held at an of­fi­cials’ level, with pres­i­den­tial in­volve­ment kept in re­serve as a bar­gain­ing chip. Trump has given away a ma­jor card with­out re­ceiv­ing any­thing in re­turn. Pre­lim­i­nary dis­cus­sions lessen the risk of fail­ure of talks at the high­est level.

Trump has pro­vided North Korea, and Kim per­son­ally, with a sig­nif­i­cant diplo­matic tri­umph and po­lit­i­cal le­git­i­macy, as North Korea has long sought such a meet­ing, in vain.

Mem­bers of Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion have re­al­ized the risks of his im­pul­sive de­ci­sion How­ever, Trump has un­der­mined their ef­forts in­sist­ing the meet­ing will go ahead.

There are a va­ri­ety of pos­si­ble out­comes for the sum­mit:

The “do no harm” sce­nario is that the two sides have an am­i­ca­ble photo-op and agree on fur­ther dis­cus­sions at the level of of­fi­cials.

This could be ac­com­pa­nied by an agree­ment to con­tinue the sus­pen­sion of tests, per­haps in re­turn for the eas­ing of sanc­tions.

Seek­ing a deal, ig­nor­ing the ad­vice of his ex­perts and be­liev­ing he had re­ceived some sort of de­nu­cle­ariza­tion com­mit­ment from Kim, Trump could en­ter­tain North Korean de­mands for the with­drawal of U.S. troops from South Korea. This is an un­likely re­sult and one that would alarm South Korea, Ja­pan and U.S. ex­perts.

Kim could make a gen­eral com­mit­ment to de­nu­cle­arize. Huge con­ces­sions by the U.S. would be de­manded, in­clud­ing with­drawal of U.S. troops from the penin­sula, re­nun­ci­a­tion of the mu­tual de­fence treaty with South Korea, com­plete lift­ing of sanc­tions, eco­nomic as­sis­tance and the con­clu­sion of a peace treaty.

The meet­ing could floun­der if Trump in­sists de­nu­cle­ariza­tion is the only pur­pose of the talks and re­fuses to en­ter­tain lift­ing of sanc­tions or se­cu­rity guar­an­tees for North Korea.

The worst-case sce­nario would be a meet­ing marked by in­sults, threats and then mil­i­tary prepa­ra­tions.

The is­sue is whether the U.S. is pre­pared for talks and whether Trump, un­versed in the facts and sub­tleties of the Korean Penin­sula, should be the one to con­duct such talks.

The an­swer is no. James Trottier is a fel­low of the Cana­dian Global Af­fairs In­sti­tute and a for­mer Cana­dian diplo­mat, in­clud­ing in North and South Korea. trot­tier­james@hot­

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