After a months long honeymoon in which North Korea was on its best behavior, it is going back to the pattern it likes best. Conflict.
Two days ago, shortly after the North Koreans announced they would allow foreign media into the DPRK to witness the destruction of their nuclear test site, the North Korean news agency said the United States needed to mind its manners or the meeting between Kim Jong Un and President Trump was off. At the same time, it abruptly cancelled a high level meeting scheduled with South Korea for yesterday. Today, the North Koreans were bitching about a military exercise that just a couple of weeks ago they were fine with.
This afternoon, President Trump sent a stark message.
“The Libya model isn’t the model that we have at all when we’re thinking of North Korea,” Trump said. “In Libya, we decimated that country.”
By contrast, Trump added, a deal with North Korea “would be with Kim Jong Un, something where he’d be there, he’d be in his country, he’d be running his country, his country would be very rich, his country would be very industrious.”
“Nothing has changed on North Korea that we know of,” the president said. “We have not been told anything.”
White House aides rejected suggestions from reporters that Kim is in the driver’s seat. Sanders emphasized that it was Kim who extended an invitation to Trump for a meeting, which the president accepted in March. She added that if North Korea cancels the summit, the administration will continue with its “maximum pressure” policy that has relied on economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation of Pyongyang.
But analysts have said that the policy is faltering amid Kim’s diplomatic outreach to South Korea and China. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who met with Kim last month in the demilitarized zone dividing the countries, is scheduled to meet with Trump at the White House on Tuesday.
“If the meeting happens, it happens,” Trump said of his summit with Kim. “If it doesn’t, we’ll go on to the next step.”
The Vichy lobby went batsh** crazy. It was glorious.
So Trump threatened Kim with a grisly death at the hands of his enemies if he didn’t disarm and all the press coverage treats this as a security assurance. 2018 is weird.
— Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk) May 17, 2018
Talk about burying the lede… Trump explicitly threatened regime change if KJU doesn’t make a deal. Nothing “veiled” about it. That’s the big take away, not the assurance. https://t.co/8dQVzcbK8X
— (((James Acton))) (@james_acton32) May 17, 2018
Exactly. I keep saying this & saying this on this feed & elsewhere: Talks are good. Inter-Korean talks are fine, bc Moon is, um, a normal guy. But with all we know @ Trump – the laziness, belligerence, racism – isn’t it obviously a huge risk having him be the Free World’s voice? https://t.co/6zGbjd5lsC
— Robert E Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly) May 17, 2018
This guy is a f***ing idiot. The idea that the Washington Post is going to do spin for Trump is so ridiculous that if defies description.
A theory. KJU’s price for a summit was a public pledge by Trump of no regime change. Trump tried to do that. And messed up. Bigly. Rucker and Nakamura are reflecting the WH explanation of the comments’ nominal purpose. https://t.co/8dQVzcbK8X
— (((James Acton))) (@james_acton32) May 17, 2018
And then you have this crap.
Kim's choice for Trump: the summit or Bolton’s approach – Axios https://t.co/QDv44D2K23
— Dr. Mark P. Barry (@DrMarkPBarry) May 17, 2018
Kim is not in the position to make demands. He’s in the position of trying to survive. He is not playing multi-dimensional chess–sorry, not all Asian leaders are super-villains, I know that is a shock–he is trying to get out from under a sanctions regime that is increasingly effective. Kim needs the deal because if he walks away from the deal, sanctions are just going to get tighter. But to get a deal and survive he has to look to the ruling clique in North Korea like he is calling the shots, not like an errand boy.
And I think there is a lot of truth here, though I think it matters less what Kim thinks about it than what Trump and Bolton and Pompeo think about it.
The meeting was set for June 12 in Singapore, but on Wednesday, Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea’s first vice foreign minister, issued a statement through the state-run Central News Agency criticizing White House national security adviser John Bolton.
He said Trump “will be recorded as more tragic and unsuccessful president than his predecessors, far from his initial ambition to make unprecedented success” if his diplomacy toward Kim mirrors that of previous commanders in chief.
Earlier on Wednesday, Seoul-based media outlet Yonhap News Agency reported the North had abruptly canceled a high-level meeting with South Korea and was considering withdrawing from Kim’s summit with Trump because of ongoing military exercises.
“The president is prepared and will be ready to meet, and we’re continuing to move forward with the preparations at this point. And if the North Koreans want to meet, we’ll be there,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday.
“The president, as we’ve said all along, will be prepared and ready to meet, and there’s really not a lot to add beyond that point,” Sanders said. “We’re continuing in the maximum pressure campaign, but again, nothing has changed on our end. This was an invitation that North Korea offered and that we’ve accepted, and we’re continuing to move forward in those preparations.”
What you’re seeing here is not hard to understand. This isn’t top level strategy. This is Negotiations 101. Trump has made it clear from the first signs of a thaw with North Korea that he was willing to walk away if he didn’t get what he perceives as a good deal. And he can. If there is no deal then we are back to where we were with no lost ground. If he makes a bad deal he will be crucified by everyone. And a bad deal will be anything that looks, smells, or tastes like the Iran deal.
Trump also knows that he can’t go into the talks looking week. South Korea’s Moon is so invested in a deal, any deal, that he will give away anything to make it happen. That’s why he’s becoming Kim’s bitch. The North Koreans talked smack and now Trump is just returning the favor.
The bottom line is that he knows, from experience, that you never go into any negotiation unless you are willing to walk away. If he allowed the North Koreans to look like they are in charge, then they have no reason to make any concessions. If Trump acts like he’d rather be playing golf than talking to Kim, then the dynamic changes.