The Trump-Kim sum­mit meets a hur­dle

North Korea may be push­ing Trump to see when he would walk away from the talks

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Don­ald Lam­bro Don­ald Lam­bro is a syn­di­cated colum­nist and con­trib­u­tor to The Wash­ing­ton Times.

The prospects of de­nu­cle­ariza­tion talks be­tween Pres­i­dent Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un be­gan to fade this week. First, North Korea scolded the U.S. for in­sist­ing the Com­mu­nist na­tion must “uni­lat­er­ally” elim­i­nate its nu­clear weapons pro­gram.

Then, the North Korean regime be­gan hav­ing doubts about whether it should at­tend the sum­mit in the wake of this week’s joint U.S.-South Korean air force drills with a fleet of bombers, an ex­er­cise North Korea called “a provo­ca­tion.”

“If the U.S. is try­ing to drive us into a cor­ner to force our uni­lat­eral nu­clear aban­don­ment, we will no longer be in­ter­ested in such di­a­logue and can­not but re­con­sider our pro­ceed­ing to the DPRKU.S. sum­mit,” said first vice min­is­ter of foreign af­fairs, Kim Kye Gwan.

Fur­ther, mud­dy­ing the sum­mit wa­ters for Py­ongyang was Mr. Trump’s hawk­ish na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton’s role in the ne­go­ti­a­tions.

North Korean of­fi­cials re­mem­ber John Bolton’s key role as un­der­sec­re­tary of State for arms con­trol in 2004, when Libyan leader Muam­mar Gaddafi ended his nu­clear arms pro­gram in re­turn for lift­ing U.S. sanc­tions on his econ­omy.

Eight years later the Gaddafi regime was over­thrown.

North Korea has en­gaged in a num­ber of bit­ter clashes with Mr. Bolton when he served in the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, calling him “hu­man scum” and a “blood­sucker.” Yet this month he urged North Korea to get rid of its nu­clear weapons in a pro­posal that re­minds it of the Libyan deal.

“We shed light on the qual­ity of Bolton al­ready in the past, and we do not hide our feel­ing of re­pug­nance to­wards him,” Foreign Af­fairs Vice Min­is­ter Kim said.

Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo made it clear Sun­day that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion would lift U.S. sanc­tions on North Korea if it ended its en­tire nu­clear weapons arse­nal.

That of­fer went over like a lead bal­loon. Foreign Af­fairs Vice Min­is­ter Kim im­me­di­ately is­sued a state­ment that “ap­peared to re­ject that, say­ing North Korea would never give up its nu­clear pro­gram in ex­change for trade with the United States,” Reuters news ser­vice re­ported this week.

“We have al­ready stated our in­ten­tion for de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean penin­sula and made clear on sev­eral oc­ca­sions that pre­con­di­tion for de­nu­cle­ariza­tion is to put an end to anti-DPRK hos­tile pol­icy and nu­clear threats and black­mail of the United States,” Mr. Kim said.

North Korea has said that it is will­ing to even­tu­ally dis­man­tle its nu­clear arse­nal, but only if the U.S. brings its 28,500 troops home and ends its “nu­clear umbrella” al­liance with South Korea. That’s not go­ing to hap­pen any­time soon.

Mr. Trump, Mr. Pom­peo and Mr. Bolton have all said that the U.S. wants the “com­plete, ver­i­fi­able, ir­re­versible, de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of North Korea — a high stan­dard that Py­ongyang has pre­vi­ously balked at,” The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported Wed­nes­day. And with good rea­son. North Korea can’t be trusted.

Still, there are skep­tics who think North Korea’s lat­est ac­cu­sa­tions are an at­tempt to squeeze con­ces­sions from Mr. Trump to get a bet­ter deal.

“A U.S. gov­ern­ment ex­pert on North Korea said Kim Jong-un may also be try­ing to gauge whether Mr. Trump is will­ing to walk away from the meet­ing,” Reuters re­ported.

In fact, ear­lier this year Mr. Trump de­clared that he would walk away from the sum­mit if he couldn’t get a good deal.

Joshua Pol­lack at the Mid­dle­burg In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies in Cal­i­for­nia, said North Korea was “ir­ri­tated by the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion’s vow to main­tain sanc­tions in spite of North Korean con­ces­sions,” Reuters re­ported.

“The North Kore­ans want a change in tone from the U.S., and at least so far, they’re not hear­ing one,” Mr. Pol­lack said.

So, as things stand now, North Korea is play­ing hard to get. The Kim regime has can­celed talks with South Korean of­fi­cials that were to have taken place this Wed­nes­day.

Foreign af­fairs re­porters have been check­ing in daily at the State Depart­ment to see if it has re­ceived any no­tice of a change in plans. But by mid-week, State Depart­ment spokes­woman Heather Nauert said she has re­ceived no no­tice of a can­cel­la­tion.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim are still sched­uled to meet in Sin­ga­pore on June 12, at least for the time be­ing.

ILLUSTRATION BY HUNTER

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