How Donald Trump still could win a Nobel Prize

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Think what you will of President Richard Nixon, but his foreign policy triumph — the opening of China — was nothing short of pure genius. Not only did Nixon put pressure on the Soviet Union while America was struggling to find a way out of Vietnam but he cemented something all presidents desperately want more than anything else: a legacy. While the Watergate scandal took some of the shine off that accomplishment, no one can deny that Nixon changed the trajectory of the Cold War for good — and clearly in America’s favor.

President Trump could, to some extent, follow Nixon’s example in working to bring North Korea into the global community of nations.

{mosads}To be clear, such a task won’t be easy. But if Trump takes a page from history, he could cement his own legacy overseas, at a time when the media are more interested in his potential legal problems back home. If times get even tougher, with the Democrats winning back Congress in the fall and pushing for his impeachment, Trump still could go down in history for a significant foreign policy win.

Although things currently look bleak regarding North Korea, there is some room for optimism going forward. First, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in soon will send a delegation to Pyongyang to pave the way for a third inter-Korean summit this year. Moon hopes to help restart talks between Washington and Pyongyang, something he was able to do just a few months ago. Knowing that the Trump administration is unhappy with the lack of progress on North Korea’s denuclearization, and the personal stakes both Koreas have in seeing détente on the peninsula hold, there is reason to believe a breakthrough is likely.

In fact, there is evidence that Seoul has some big plans for the weeks ahead. A report in South Korean media suggests that President Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could jointly travel to New York for the United National General Assembly opening on Sept. 18, if their summit is a success. There would be only one reason for such a historic move: a ceremony that culminates with the signing of a peace declaration to formally conclude the Korean War.

In a wide-ranging interview for The Atlantic, Moon Chung In, a special advisor to President Moon, floated the idea: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if President Trump, President Xi Jinping, President Moon Jae-in, and Chairman Kim Jong Un meet together at the United Nations [and] adopt the declaration to end the Korean War? That would be a really epochal event for peace and denuclearization in Korea.”

President Trump, knowing the domestic challenges he could face in November, would be foolish not to welcome taking such a step. North and South Korea both have appeared eager to formally conclude the conflict that ended 65 years ago. Such a step has been something Pyongyang specifically asked for, something it claims would assure that it can trust both Seoul and Washington. It also would give Kim the political cover he needs to start the long process of denuclearizing, which his generals likely are telling him to avoid at all costs. Kim, like any politician, needs to show he is achieving results before making harder compromises.

Some will argue all of this would be a giant mistake — nothing more than giving the Kim regime another diplomatic concession that the North will pocket while building more nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. We must be skeptical of any promises the North makes, but Washington and Seoul also should be clear that they have done all they can to show North Korea they are no threat to the regime’s survival or longevity.

After three meetings with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, three inter-Korean summits, a summit with President Trump in Singapore, and a potential formal end to the Korean War, America and South Korea could say credibly to Kim — and the world — they have proved to the North their sincerity in creating an atmosphere that could transform Northeast Asia for good.

And if Kim did walk away, unwilling to denuclearize, Presidents Trump and Moon would hold the moral high ground, showing the world they did all they could.

Here is where things will get tricky — and where North Korea usually heads for the exits with unreasonable demands, or years of negotiating that stall the process. We can’t reasonably expect the North to hand over all its nuclear weapons tomorrow, but we can reasonably expect Kim to show the world he is serious about complying. A good step would be for Kim, while at the United Nations, to give Washington and Seoul an accounting of all nuclear and missile platforms.

North Korea would hold back the locations of those weapons, for now, fearing that revealing such facts could make those locations targets if negotiations fail. But even just revealing to the world the size of Kim’s weapons arsenal would show he is serious. Once this is done, as a next step, Seoul, Washington and Pyongyang should continue with trilateral meetings — at which all sides make concessions. This would avoid asking one nation to “go first,” an optics game that could derail the process.

No one wishes to see a return to the events of 2017, with Kim and Trump slinging insults at one another and the possibility of missiles being next. The good news is that all sides are still talking; history shows that today’s crisis with the North could lead to tomorrow’s breakthrough.

If Trump plays his cards right, working towards solving the North Korea problem would be a smart strategy that could give him a foreign policy win of epic proportions. No matter what happens domestically, a diplomatic breakthrough certainly would give his presidency a historic achievement. Heck, he even could end up with that Nobel Prize he so desperately wants, after all.

Harry J. Kazianis (@grecianformula) is director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, founded in 1994 by President Richard M. Nixon, and executive editor of its publishing arm, The National Interest. He previously worked on the foreign policy team of the 2016 Ted Cruz presidential campaign and as foreign policy communications manager at the Heritage Foundation, editor-in-chief of The Diplomat, and as a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The views voiced in this article are his own.

Tags Aftermath of the Korean War Donald Trump Inter-Korean summits Kim Jong-un Mike Pompeo North Korea–South Korea relations Ted Cruz

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