Trump un­der heavy pres­sure to build on gains from sum­mit

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY GUY TAY­LOR

The Sin­ga­pore sum­mit of Pres­i­dent Trump and Kim Jongun pro­jected po­tent im­ages of peace and diplo­macy be­tween two lead­ers who traded nu­clear war threats just a year ago, but the out­put gen­er­ated a large wave of ini­tial skep­ti­cism that the U.S. side got any tan­gi­ble or per­ma­nent con­ces­sion from the North Korean dic­ta­tor on Tues­day.

For­eign pol­icy an­a­lysts said North Korea and its clos­est al­lies, China and Rus­sia, scored a diplo­matic vic­tory in Sin­ga­pore and that the meet­ing le­git­imized Mr. Kim, a hu­man rights abuser with a spot on Amer­ica’s list of state spon­sors of ter­ror­ism.

Mr. Kim, in the two lead­ers’ joint state­ment, com­mit­ted only to “work to­ward” the “com­plete de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula” — a prom­ise Mr. Kim made to South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in in April. In ad­di­tion to sit­ting down with Mr. Kim, Mr. Trump re­vealed af­ter the meet­ing broke up

that he agreed to freeze U.S.-South Korean mil­i­tary drills, a prom­ise that was bol­stered by the pres­i­dent’s un­scripted com­ments on want­ing to “bring home” the 32,000 U.S. troops from the penin­sula.

Such a de­vel­op­ment, an­a­lysts say, would play di­rectly into China’s hand at a mo­ment when Bei­jing is ex­pand­ing its mil­i­tary oper­a­tions across the re­gion. China had been strongly push­ing the “freeze-for­freeze” for­mula — a halt to North Korean nu­clear tests and ac­tiv­i­ties in ex­change for a halt to U.S.South Korean mil­i­tary ex­er­cises — long be­fore Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump met this week.

Lib­eral crit­ics quickly claimed Mr. Trump gave away too much too fast with­out de­mand­ing more spe­cific lan­guage from Mr. Kim on de­nu­cle­ariza­tion. Lan­guage pushed by Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo for a “com­plete, ver­i­fied, ir­re­versible” end to the North’s nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grams was no­tably ab­sent from the pub­lic ac­cord.

But Michael Pills­bury, the Man­darin-speak­ing se­cu­rity con­sul­tant who worked closely with nearly ev­ery U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion since Richard Nixon, took a more op­ti­mistic pos­ture, ar­gu­ing that the fo­cus should be on how the sum­mit rep­re­sented the start of a po­ten­tially game-chang­ing geopo­lit­i­cal shift and an un­prece­dented U.S.-Chi­nese pol­icy co­or­di­na­tion to­ward North Korea.

“Pres­i­dent Trump has not given much credit to China yet, but I be­lieve he will do so later …,” Mr. Pills­bury said. “China not only pro­vided the Air China air­craft [that de­liv­ered Mr. Kim to Sin­ga­pore], Bei­jing did not re­spond to Amer­i­can threats last year to at­tack the North’s nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties.”

China had also agreed to the tougher “max­i­mum pres­sure” sanc­tions cham­pi­oned by Mr. Trump, he said, sug­gest­ing that Bei­jing even played a crit­i­cal be­hind-the-scenes role in or­ches­trat­ing direct diplo­matic en­gage­ment be­tween Washington and Py­ongyang. What Pres­i­dent Trump has done, Mr. Pills­bury said, is ac­cept a “dou­ble freeze” that China has pro­moted over the past year with pub­lic and pri­vate as­ser­tions that “the best deal can only be a freeze on all U.S. mil­i­tary ex­er­cises to be syn­chro­nized with a freeze on [North Korean] mis­sile and nu­clear test­ing.”

Am­bas­sador Joseph DeTrani, who served as a top U.S. ne­go­tia­tor with Py­ongyang be­fore the last at­tempt at diplo­macy broke down in 2009, said the cur­rent sta­tus quo is bet­ter than the in­sult-trading, “fire and fury” rhetoric of last year. “I think we’re in a good place, cer­tainly com­pared to eight months ago,” he said.

But sev­eral con­ser­va­tive an­a­lysts of­fered a harsher take.

“All the ini­tial ben­e­fits were pock­eted by Py­ongyang — and all the ini­tial con­ces­sions were of­fered by Washington,” said Ni­cholas Eber­stadt, an econ­o­mist and Asia spe­cial­ist at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute.

“Amer­ica and her al­lies must now move into dam­age con­trol and sal­vage mode.”

Oth­ers pre­dicted it will be dif­fi­cult for the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to main­tain broad U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil sanc­tions pres­sure on North Korea, with both South Korea and China ea­ger to re-es­tab­lish eco­nomic links with the North cur­rently blocked by in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions.

Bei­jing was al­ready show­ing signs Tues­day of want­ing to walk back U.N. sanc­tions. Chi­nese For­eign Min­istry spokesman Geng Shuang told re­porters that “China has con­sis­tently held that sanc­tions are not the goal in them­selves” and that “the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil’s ac­tions should sup­port and con­form to the ef­forts of cur­rent diplo­matic talks to­wards de­nu­cle­ariz­ing the Korean Penin­sula.”

Srini­vasan Si­tara­man, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Clark Univer­sity in Massachusetts, said the im­pe­tus of Chi­nese sup­port for Washington’s sanc­tions cam­paign may al­ready be lost. “I doubt Rus­sia or China will go along with the U.S. to main­tain the max­i­mum pres­sure pol­icy go­ing for­ward,” he told The Washington Times.

If North Korea did well, China may have done even bet­ter from the sum­mit.

“Napoleon had this say­ing that, ‘When your ene­mies are mak­ing a mis­take, get out of their way,’ and I think on a strate­gic level that’s how Bei­jing is view­ing this,” said Michael J. Green, a Cen­ter for Strate­gic In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies an­a­lyst, who once served as Asian af­fairs di­rec­tor on Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

Repub­li­can law­mak­ers re­mained wary as well, given that Mr. Kim’s fa­ther, Kim Jong-il, com­mit­ted far more ex­plic­itly back in 2005 to “aban­don­ing all nu­clear weapons and ex­ist­ing nu­clear pro­grams,” only to re­nege on the prom­ise.

House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Mac Thorn­berry, Texas Repub­li­can, said that while it’s “per­fectly rea­son­able to hope that we are see­ing the be­gin­ning of a process that will lead to a com­plete, per­ma­nent, ver­i­fi­able end to North Korea’s nu­clear ca­pa­bil­i­ties,” it is “also per­fectly rea­son­able to be skep­ti­cal of North Korea’s in­ten­tions, given its his­tory of bro­ken agree­ments.”

“The key go­ing for­ward will be North Korea’s ac­tions, not their prom­ises,” Mr. Thorn­berry said. “In the mean­time, it is es­sen­tial to main­tain eco­nomic sanc­tions and diplo­matic pres­sure, and above all to con­tinue strength­en­ing our mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­ity to de­fend our­selves and our al­lies.”

Pa­trick Cronin, the top Asia se­cu­rity an­a­lyst at the Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity, was one of a num­ber of an­a­lysts who said it was far too soon to judge the suc­cess or fail­ure of the Sin­ga­pore sum­mit. “The com­ing few months will give us a bet­ter in­di­ca­tion as to whether [this] was an ex­pen­sive photo op­por­tu­nity or a pos­i­tive break­through,” he said.

“The good news is that long­time ad­ver­saries have shown that they can talk, and now the White House has a chan­nel with the top leader in Py­ongyang,” Mr. Cronin told The Times. “The bad news is that the hard de­ci­sions now need to be made on a rel­a­tively tight time­line.”

Mr. Trump em­pha­sized that the sum­mit was only the start of a much deeper process to in­clude spe­cific talks on de­nu­cle­ariza­tion “very, very quickly,” with Mr. Pom­peo lead­ing the charge and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser John R. Bolton closely in­volved.

The chal­lenge ahead is likely to cen­ter on how pa­tient the two aides, who have both es­poused

hawk­ish views to­ward North Korea in the past, will be if Py­ongyang wa­vers go­ing for­ward. One source close to the White House who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity said a bat­tle is al­ready un­fold­ing within the ad­min­is­tra­tion over how ag­gres­sively to pro­ceed with Mr. Kim.

The fight finds Mr. Bolton, who wants a bareknuckle pos­ture and short dead­lines for the de­liv­ery of proof of de­nu­cle­ariza­tion, pit­ted against act­ing As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of State for Asia Susan Thorn­ton, who has ad­vo­cated be­hind the scenes for a softer and more grad­ual ap­proach.

If crit­i­cism of Mr. Trump’s han­dling of the Sin­ga­pore sum­mit mounts dur­ing the com­ing days, said the source, Mr. Bolton and oth­ers, in­clud­ing Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Asia Di­rec­tor Matthew Pot­tinger, are likely to try to “blame the neg­a­tive op­tics on Thorn­ton” and push her out of the ad­min­is­tra­tion.


IN AGREE­MENT: Pres­i­dent Trump, emerg­ing from nearly five hours of talks Tues­day with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, said, “We are pre­pared to start a new his­tory, and we are pre­pared to write a new chap­ter be­tween our na­tions.”

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