Trump de­fends his N. Korea diplo­macy

Lit­tle to show a year after sum­mit

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY GUY TAY­LOR AND TOM HOW­ELL JR.

On the eve of the first an­niver­sary of his prece­dent-shat­ter­ing sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore with Kim Jong-un, Pres­i­dent Trump heaped fresh praise on the North Korean leader Tues­day even as crit­ics, in­clud­ing some con­ser­va­tives, com­plained that Py­ongyang had made no real progress on de­nu­cle­ariza­tion over the past year de­spite Mr. Trump’s in­tense per­sonal diplo­macy

Fiercely pro­tec­tive of his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sig­na­ture for­eign pol­icy ini­tia­tive, Mr. Trump re­jected sug­ges­tions of ap­ply­ing more pres­sure on Py­ongyang. He re­vealed to re­porters that he had re­ceived a “beau­ti­ful” let­ter from Mr. Kim a day ear­lier and sug­gested a re­newal of the stalled talks with the North Korean leader is in the works.

“I can’t show you the let­ter, ob­vi­ously, but it was a very per­sonal, very warm, very nice let­ter,” Mr. Trump said.

Asked about a Wall Street Jour­nal re­port that Mr. Kim’s as­sas­si­nated half brother may have been pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion to U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, Mr. Trump said he never would have autho­rized re­cruit­ing fam­ily mem­bers of Mr. Kim as as­sets to gather in­tel­li­gence on the opaque North Korean regime. The news­pa­per re­ported that Kim Jong­nam was trav­el­ing to Malaysia to

meet his CIA con­tact be­fore he was as­sas­si­nated at an air­port there in 2017.

“I would never let that hap­pen un­der my aus­pices,” the pres­i­dent said.

The an­niver­sary of the one-day sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore — a sec­ond sum­mit in Hanoi in Fe­bru­ary broke up abruptly with the two sides far apart on the fu­ture of the North’s nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grams — has sparked a mini-in­dus­try of stock­tak­ing. Mr. Trump noted again Tues­day that re­gional ten­sions are down sharply in East Asia and Mr. Kim has re­frained from ma­jor weapons tests since the Sin­ga­pore sum­mit.

But skep­tics say the North Korea cri­sis is fol­low­ing a long-fa­mil­iar pat­tern in which Py­ongyang seeks to ease its eco­nomic cri­sis while string­ing along the U.S. and its al­lies with de­nu­cle­ariza­tion prom­ises that never ma­te­ri­al­ize.

“While there was much hope that Sin­ga­pore would de­liver re­sults, it has, thus far, failed to do so,” Her­itage Foundation Asia scholar Olivia Enos said Tues­day. “North Korea is no closer to de­nu­cle­ariz­ing than it was prior to Sin­ga­pore, and hu­man rights con­di­tions in North Korea con­tinue to de­te­ri­o­rate.”

Bruce Klingner, a for­mer CIA Korea deputy di­vi­sion chief, added that “de­nu­cle­ariza­tion ne­go­ti­a­tions with North Korea are at an im­passe” and that “Kim Jong-un has been no more will­ing to aban­don his coun­try’s arse­nal than his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther were.”

Mr. Klingner, a Her­itage Foundation se­nior fel­low, said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has fallen short with its “max­i­mum pres­sure” cam­paign against North Korea.

“The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ini­tially sanc­tioned more North Korean en­ti­ties in its first 18 months in of­fice than the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion did in eight years,” Mr. Klingner said. “But like his pre­de­ces­sors, Trump has not fully en­forced U.S. laws, in­clud­ing those pro­tect­ing the U.S. fi­nan­cial sys­tem. For all its tough talk, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ‘max­i­mum pres­sure’ pol­icy was never max­i­mum.”

Get­ting tough

The ad­min­is­tra­tion ral­lied the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to level the most ex­ten­sive slate of eco­nomic sanc­tions to date against North Korea in 2017. Washington also has its own uni­lat­eral sanc­tions in place against cer­tain North Korean eco­nomic sec­tors.

U.S. of­fi­cials last month an­nounced the seizure of a North Korean ship ac­cused of smug­gling coal and heavy ma­chin­ery in de­fi­ance of sanc­tions. Although of­fi­cials noted in court doc­u­ments that In­done­sian author­i­ties seized the ship in April 2018, many saw the move as a sig­nal from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion that it could en­force sanc­tions more aggressive­ly.

The ship seizure was re­vealed after North Korea car­ried out a wave of short-range mis­sile tests. Py­ongyang re­frained from such tests dur­ing a pe­riod of diplo­macy with Washington.

After the failed sum­mit in Fe­bru­ary, Mr. Trump said he had to walk away be­cause the North Kore­ans de­manded sweeping sanc­tions relief in ex­change for only a lim­ited com­mit­ment to de­stroy part of their nu­clear arse­nal. Py­ongyang later chal­lenged that char­ac­ter­i­za­tion.

Since Hanoi, the North Korean regime has re­sumed its heated rhetoric against U.S. pol­icy and against many of Mr. Trump’s top aides while care­fully re­frain­ing from at­tacks on Mr. Trump him­self. In mid-April, Mr. Kim set a Dec. 31 dead­line for the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to make a “bold de­ci­sion” to change its ne­go­ti­at­ing stance if it wants a deal.

“We don’t like — and we are not in­ter­ested in — the United States’ way of di­a­logue … in which it tries to uni­lat­er­ally push through its de­mands,” Mr. Kim said in the speech. “We don’t wel­come — and we have no in­ten­tion of re­peat­ing — the kind of sum­mit meet­ing like the one held in Hanoi.”

North Korean state me­dia ap­peared to re­it­er­ate the state­ment last week with a mes­sage from the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs in Py­ongyang that said “there is a limit to our pa­tience.”

How­ever, the mes­sage car­ried by the regime-con­trolled Korean Cen­tral News Agency also pro­jected pos­i­tive lan­guage about the Sin­ga­pore sum­mit. It re­ferred to the meet­ing as a “mo­men­tous oc­ca­sion of great sig­nif­i­cance in pro­mot­ing peace and sta­bil­ity on the Korean Penin­sula.”

North Korean press out­lets re­peat­edly ar­gue that it is the U.S. that has failed to live up to the com­mit­ments in the orig­i­nal Sin­ga­pore dec­la­ra­tion, which hinted at se­cu­rity guar­an­tees for the North and a pos­si­ble for­mal end to the Korean War of the early 1950s.

White House of­fi­cials de­clined to com­ment fur­ther on the sub­se­quent let­ter that Mr. Trump claimed to have re­ceived this week from Mr. Kim. The let­ter would mark the first di­rect com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the U.S. and North Korean lead­ers since their sum­mit in Hanoi broke down three months ago with­out a deal.

“We have a very good re­la­tion­ship to­gether. Now I can con­firm it be­cause of the let­ter I got yes­ter­day,” Mr. Trump told re­porters. “And, I think that, you know, I think that some­thing will hap­pen that’s go­ing to be very pos­i­tive.”

The pres­i­dent went on to tout signs of progress with North Korea de­spite its short-range mis­sile tests.

“No nu­clear test­ing, no ma­jor mis­sile test­ing. Noth­ing like when I first got here,” Mr. Trump said as he left the White House en route to Iowa. “When I first got here, it was a bad mess.”

The pres­i­dent also touted North Korea’s re­turn over the past year of Amer­i­can hostages and the re­mains of U.S. sol­diers who per­ished in the Korean War. But the North has pro­vided no re­mains after a set of 55 was turned over to the U.S. mil­i­tary a month after the Sin­ga­pore sum­mit. The Pen­tagon an­nounced last month that it had halted talks on joint searches in­side North Korea be­cause of the diplo­matic stale­mate.

Mr. Trump and South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in are sug­gest­ing that a third Trump-Kim sum­mit may be in the works, with the lure of eco­nomic aid too great for Mr. Kim to re­sist in­def­i­nitely.

“I think that North Korea has tremen­dous po­ten­tial,” Mr. Trump said. “The one that feels that more than any­one is Kim Jong-un. He gets it.”

Mr. Trump is set to meet with Mr. Moon in Seoul this month to discuss the next steps on North Korea after a visit to Osaka, Japan, for the Group of 20 sum­mit.

Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, mean­while, brushed aside North Korea’s re­cent de­mands in an in­ter­view with The Washington Times, say­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­mains open to talks but that de­nu­cle­ariza­tion is a non-ne­go­tiable end goal.

“I hope we get another op­por­tu­nity to sit down with them and have a se­ri­ous con­ver­sa­tion,” Mr. Pom­peo said in the in­ter­view last week.

The sec­re­tary of state stressed that it was Mr. Kim who agreed to give up his nu­clear arse­nal at the Sin­ga­pore sum­mit a year ago.

“They need to do what Chair­man Kim said that they would do,” he said. “That’s been our pos­ture since the be­gin­ning. We’re happy to talk about the best way to achieve that. We’re happy to talk about what the right tools and mech­a­nisms are so we can fa­cil­i­tate that.”

But some na­tional se­cu­rity an­a­lysts say the two sides have wide dif­fer­ences on what “com­plete de­nu­cle­ariza­tion” would en­tail. Some ar­gue that the North Kore­ans, as the price for giv­ing up their nu­clear arse­nal, want the re­moval of the U.S. de­fen­sive nu­clear um­brella from all of East Asia as well.

David Maxwell, a re­tired Army Spe­cial Forces colonel and a North Korea an­a­lyst with the Foundation for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies think tank, said “the U.S. has been clear that it is ready to talk.”

“Kim is the one who has not al­lowed sub­stan­tive work­ing-level talks since the Sin­ga­pore sum­mit,” Mr. Maxwell said re­cently.

There should be no third sum­mit with North Korea “un­less work­ing-level ne­go­ti­a­tions pro­duce some kind of sub­stan­tive agree­ment,” he added.

“We should not ex­pect any sub­stan­tive pos­i­tive action from the North be­cause Kim is still try­ing to re­cover from his fail­ure at Hanoi,” Mr. Maxwell said, ar­gu­ing that the best way for­ward for the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is to “sus­tain max­i­mum pres­sure” against Py­ongyang.


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sent a let­ter that gave Pres­i­dent Trump hope for fur­ther ne­go­ti­a­tions. “I can’t show you the let­ter, ob­vi­ously, but it was a very per­sonal, very warm, very nice let­ter,” Mr. Trump said.

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