Trump’s deeds fall short of own plan

This pres­i­dent’s pact with North Korea’s Kim seems weaker than oth­ers’ ef­forts.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Foster Klug and Josh Lederman

SINGAPORE » Af­ter all the hype, all the vows to tackle what’s per­haps the world’s most ur­gent cri­sis, Pres­i­dent Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un fell short of the kind of deal the U.S. pres­i­dent him­self has long said is needed to set­tle the North’s decades­long pur­suit of nuclear weapons.

For months, Trump has been rail­ing against pres­i­dents past, ac­cus­ing them of an in­ex­cus­able fail­ure to solve the nuclear threat em­a­nat­ing from the North. On Tues­day, he pat­ted him­self on the back for sign­ing a “com­pre­hen­sive” pact with Kim paving a path to­ward de­nu­cle­ariza­tion, but the con­tours ap­peared far weaker than even his pre­de­ces­sors’ failed deals.

Rather than a de­tailed state­ment filled with con­crete re­straints on the North, the doc­u­ment seemed to amount mostly to a re­state­ment of long­as­sumed prin­ci­ples and an agree­ment to keep talk­ing. And Trump made dra­matic on­the­spot con­ces­sions to Kim that his own ad­vis­ers had urged him against, in­clud­ing a halt on “provoca­tive” U.S.­South Korea mil­i­tary ex­er­cises and an ad­mis­sion he could be will­ing to with­draw U.S. troops from South Korea in the fu­ture.

“These are all things that Trump is putting on the ta­ble as con­ces­sions, all in ex­change for some vague promises by the North Kore­ans,” said Paul Haenle, a for­mer China di­rec­tor at the White House Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil in the Obama and Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tions. He called the lan­guage in the joint state­ment “weak, vague and wor­ri­some.”

In the doc­u­ment, signed with great fan­fare by Trump and Kim in Singapore, Kim com­mit­ted to “com­plete de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula.” Trump said that process would be start­ing very soon, adding that once it starts, “it’s pretty much over.”

Not so sim­ple. Kim has made the de­nu­cle­ariza­tion pledge be­fore. In his April agree­ment with South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in, the lan­guage was sim­i­lar, with the two vow­ing to achieve “a nuclear-free Korean Penin­sula through com­plete de­nu­cle­ariza­tion.”

To be sure, the fact the U.S. and North Korea are now on speak­ing terms, with a prom­i­nent dis­play of nascent rap­port among their lead­ers, au­gurs a low­er­ing of ten­sions that likely re­duces the chances of a nuclear con­fronta­tion in the short term. There will be many in Seoul and Tokyo who are re­lieved that Wash­ing­ton and Py­ongyang are talk­ing up friendship, not po­ten­tial war.

To that end, there could be some­thing to the no­tion that if two war­ring en­e­mies can truly start deal­ing with each other in fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent ways, then there could be fu­ture move­ment on the nuke is­sue. North Korea is a top-down na­tion, and Kim’s word is law. The North Kore­ans and Amer­i­cans also de­cid- ed to hold more talks and likely an­other leader-to-leader sum­mit, Trump said, an ac­knowl­edg­ment that the is­sue won’t be re­solved in a sin­gle day.

Yet line up all the bold claims Trump and his lieu­tenants made ahead of Tues­day’s sum­mit, and it’s clear that the end re­sult, at least where nukes are con­cerned, don’t hit the mark. That’s es­pe­cially strik­ing af­ter last year’s ex­change of threats and in­sults be­tween Trump and Kim, just as North Korea’s tor­rid weapons test­ing had many fear­ing a re­newal of the Korean War.

There was irony in the fact that Trump and Kim made di­rect ref­er­ence in their agree­ment to the so­called Pan­munjom Dec­la­ra­tion be­tween Moon and Kim, with its weak, re­heated com­mit­ment to de­nu­cle­ariza­tion that lacked specifics at how the ri­vals would get there. Sim­i­larly, there was noth­ing spe­cific on nukes in Tues­day’s dec­la­ra­tion — and no joint af­fir­ma­tion of the goal of “com­plete, ver­i­fi­able and ir­re­versible” dis­man­tle­ment that Trump’s aides had pre­vi­ously made the lit­mus test for suc­cess.

Since tak­ing of­fice, Trump has re­peat­edly in­dicted his pre­de­ces­sors for their han­dling of North Korea, which launched its atomic pro­gram in the 1960s and be­gan pro­duc­ing bomb fuel in the early 1990s. Past ad­min­is­tra­tions have also used a com­bi­na­tion of sanc­tions and diplo­macy to seek de­nu­cle­ariza­tion, and have yielded some re­sults that failed to en­dure.

Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton reached an aid-for-dis­ar­ma­ment deal in 1994 that halted North Korea’s plu­to­nium pro­duc­tion for eight years, halt­ing growth in what was then a very small atomic ar­se­nal. In his fi­nal months in of­fice, he also con­tem­plated a sum­mit with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il — Kim Jong Un’s fa­ther — as the two sides ne­go­ti­ated on also lim­it­ing the North’s mis­sile pro­gram but ran out of time in of­fice.

Ge­orge W. Bush took a tougher stance to­ward North Korea, and the 1994 nuclear deal col­lapsed amid sus­pi­cions that the North was run­ning a se­cret ura­nium pro­gram. But Bush, too, ul­ti­mately pur­sued ne­go­ti­a­tions. That led to a tem­po­rary dis­abling of some nuclear fa­cil­i­ties, but talks col­lapsed be­cause of dif­fer­ences over ver­i­fi­ca­tion.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama made ten­ta­tive ef­forts to re­sume those talks but made lit­tle head­way. In­de­pen­dent ex­perts es­ti­mate North Korea now has enough fis­sile ma­te­rial for 20 to 60 bombs, and it has tested mis­siles that could po­ten­tially de­liver a nuclear weapon to the U.S. main­land.

U.S. Pres­i­dent Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un take a walk dur­ing a break at their his­toric sum­mit in Singapore.

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