Trump should stay strong on North Korea, but be wary

Trump should stay strong on North Korea, but be wary
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Past presidents couldn’t or wouldn’t upset the status quo when it came to North Korea. Sanctions and platitudes were offered time and again, but little else. Today, President TrumpDonald TrumpGuardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa wins GOP primary in NYC mayor's race Garland dismisses broad review of politicization of DOJ under Trump Schumer vows next steps after 'ridiculous,' 'awful' GOP election bill filibuster MORE isn’t tiptoeing around on eggshells, and his leadership has led to the safe return of three Americans — Tony Kim, Kim Hak Song, and Kim Dong Chul — who had been imprisoned in North Korea for over one year.

Trump is doing exactly what he said he would do. He has consistently stated a policy of denuclearization for North Korea, and in order to achieve that goal, there must be communication.


Even back in 2016, Trump realized this, declaring, “What the hell is wrong with speaking? It’s called opening dialogue.”

The upcoming summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is going to make history, and I’m cautiously optimistic for its outcome.

When it comes to issues in the Korean peninsula, I pay close attention. My mother as a teenager crossed the border in the dead of night into South Korea during the Korean War to secure her safety, her freedom, and her future. I grew up in South Korea and still have family there.

North Korea is home to gulags, political murders, a nuclear weapons program, government-controlled propaganda, and impoverished, starving citizens who have zero opportunities to rise above their station.

It’s almost impossible to grasp the horrors and arrogance of the Kim regime especially in the context of negotiating the dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Trump will be negotiating with a man who murdered his own brother and uncle to secure his power.


As former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “I have no problem with negotiating with them. But beware.”

As a Korean-American, I absolutely agree.

Unlike the president who will back up his words with action, North Korea has demonstrated an insincere openness to negotiations. In 1992, North and South Korea signed a joint declaration on denuclearization of the peninsula, as well as an agreement on reconciliation, exchanges, and cooperation. They signed another joint declaration in 2000, and yet another in 2007.

These all went nowhere. As Nicholas Eberstadt wrote in the New York Times, “All of these deals were then trash-canned. The North Korean promises in them were worthless, indeed deceitful.” North Korea has a history of striking peaceful poses when its leaders feel squeezed by sanctions and other international pressures, only to return to form when the danger has passed.

In these negotiations, it will be important to stay strong. The United States has the upper hand in any negotiations with North Korea, but North Korea is playing the long game. Kim is a dictator for life and intends to remain one. If this new round of dialogue with the United States is going to be different from those that came before it, the U.S. should not budge when it comes to sanctions — which are working — or America’s defensive presence on the DMZ.

North Korea is the bad actor in these discussions, and it is the Kim regime that must feel pressure to make concessions, not the other way around. There is no urgency for the president to sign a deal that looks good on paper only to have Kim throw it away as his father and grandfather did so many times. Strong and steady pressure combined with open dialogue may take time to yield results but will ultimately be more fruitful.

Fortunately, Trump is an experienced and skilled negotiator, and the June summit will set a precedent for how future negotiations will be held. There are several moving parts with a lot at stake, but I am confident that our president will find success.

“The United States no longer makes empty threats,” as Trump said. “When I make promises, I keep them.”

Michelle Park Steel is the chairwoman of California’s Orange County Board of Supervisors. Steel represents the residents of the Second District, which includes, Costa Mesa, Cypress, Huntington Beach, La Palma, Los Alamitos, Newport Beach, Seal Beach, Stanton, the unincorporated area of Rossmoor and portions of Buena Park and Fountain Valley. Steel, a successful businesswoman and renowned taxpayer advocate, previously served as Vice Chair of the State Board of Equalization. At the time, Steel was the highest-ranking Korean-American elected official in the United States.