As he prepares to head off for Singapore and Tuesday’s historic summit with Kim Jong Un, President Trump has been lowering expectations he’ll come back with a comprehensive denuclearization agreement with the North Korean leader — and wisely so.
“I think it’s a ‘getting to know you’ meeting plus, and that could be a very positive thing,” he said last week.
Trump’s caution is well-founded, given the decades-long history of Pyongyang’s nuclear deception. And it shows that, contrary to what his critics suggest, he’s not about to make foolish concessions for the sake of declaring victory.
Indeed, while Trump on Thursday suggested his sit-down with Kim could extend for another day (and be reciprocated by an invitation for Kim to visit the US), he’s also stressed that this is only the first step in a long process.
And what he’s emphasizing in this first one-on-one with the long-reclusive Kim is “attitude” and assessing his “willingness to get things done.”
For even if Trump hasn’t been spending hours in advance preparation, he doubtless understands that negotiating with North Korea involves careful attention to detail.
The president’s chief aim is a reliably verifiable commitment to ending Pyongyang’s nuclear program. And while he reportedly has given way on talk of a “Libya model” (no concessions until actual denuclearization), he’s still said to be intent on achieving a firm timetable and deadline.
That will be tricky, of course — North Korea has promised to give up its nukes before, and past presidents (think Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton) have taken its word, only to be deceived.
But as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) notes, while denuclearization is non-negotiable, “how you do it is very negotiable.” And Trump is making clear that “maximum pressure” — a term temporarily removed from his vocabulary — will return if he decides Kim isn’t serious.
In other words, no bad deal just for the sake of reaching one.
Another positive sign: GOP leaders say Trump — in a pointed break with President Barack Obama’s handling of Iran — has committed to sending any deal with North Korea to the Senate for ratification as a treaty.
That means it would have to appeal to a broad partisan majority.
Can he do it? Kim has shown he needs to be taken seriously. After all, an unstable, cash-starved regime with a nuclear arsenal is the worst of combinations.
But he’s increasingly desperate to relieve his failing economy through sanctions relief and trade. The president must ensure that he pays full price to achieve it.
Until now, notes Graham, time has always been on Kim’s side. Trump’s goal “is to put time on our side.”
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