Don't get played: 6 demands Trump must make before a US-North Korea summit

Don't get played: 6 demands Trump must make before a US-North Korea summit
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Is the North Korea now crisis over? Will President TrumpDonald TrumpPoll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary Biden flexes presidential muscle on campaign trail with Virginia's McAuliffe Has Trump beaten the system? MORE and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un simply get in a room and solve the crisis man to man and declare peace in our time, with Pyongyang giving up its nuclear weapons and missiles for what amounts to a security guarantee?

All good questions, but let’s not put the cart before the horse. There is a real question whether this Trump-Kim summit actually happens or not. Rushing to a summit-level diplomatic track is the riskiest of all Hail Mary strategies one can employ. But considering the stakes involved — a situation where North Korea will for the foreseeable future test nuclear weapons and missiles with America considering some sort of military strike — this is a gambit worth pursuing.


So how does Washington set the proper conditions to sit down with the North Koreans, but at the same time, ensure it does not give away the store and make sure there is a chance to achieve denuclearization?

I would establish six basic conditions to create a climate where Washington sets the diplomatic table in such a way where team Trump is able to test the willingness of the Kim regime and not run the risk of getting played.

First, we must make sure America and its allies are all on the same page. Washington, Seoul and Tokyo must share the same goal of what a denuclearized North Korea looks like, what a timeline to achieve such a goal looks like, and how long they can allow Pyongyang to take to get there. They also must be clear what the punishments would be for breaking any agreements and how such a deal would be enforced.

Second, the location of the meeting must be at the Demilitarized Zone — nowhere else. Pyongyang will push to have the meeting in North Korea — that is a complete non-starter. Kim will want to show his countryman he was able to get an American president to come to North Korea in a sign of strength for his regime — to show that despite millions of people dying of starvation, despite 100,000 plus people in prison camps on par with Nazi Germany — and that their suffering was worth this moment. That simply can’t happen.

Third, all American captives in North Korea must be returned shortly before the summit. How can American deal with North Korea who would have such leverage? As a measure of good faith, they must be released — and in good health.

Fourth, U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises, especially the Foal Eagle military exercise this month, can't be stopped. North Korea, at least according to officials who met with Kim recently, have said he has agreed to this — but we need to hear it from Pyongyang directly. If they have a sudden change of heart and demand the exercises be cancelled there should not be a meeting.

Fifth, North Korea must present some sort of rough outline of how it plans to denuclearize before any summit occurs. This allows Washington to see what denuclearization means to Pyongyang. In the past, North Korea has made offers to eliminate its nuclear weapons if America guaranteed its security. What that usually meant in the past was U.S. forces leaving the Korean Peninsula all the way to the elimination of America’s nuclear arsenal — all nonstarters.

And, last, the maximum pressure campaign continues until North Korea begins a measurable effort towards denuclearization. We must avoid the mistake of giving Pyongyang any sort of financial or other incentives for simply talking. That is what Washington and its allies have done every single time North Korea has offered to talk. We must break this cycle of North Korea pocketing the concession, negotiating in bad faith for months or years, while all the while they build up their nuclear weapons or missiles.

The above conditions allow Washington to set the stage to achieve its goals, making sure North Korea gets no reward for simply talking and is a step forward to eliminating North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

But what happens if this all fails? Simple, Washington goes back to the status-quo — with some tweaks. While it abandons the “fire and fury” rhetoric, the Trump administration keeps the maximum pressure campaign going, slowly inching up the pressure on Pyongyang over time.

America and its allies should insist they are willing to always have an open dialogue with Kim, but the terms have already been cast and are not negotiable. Washington makes it clear that war is not an outcome it wants in any format, but it will never relent in its containment strategy if North Korea wants to hold onto its nuclear weapons and missiles. And if containment worked on the Soviet Union — which had a massive military machine and 40,000 nuclear warheads — it can work on North Korea. If this summit never happens or fails, all won’t be lost.

Harry J. Kazianis (@grecianformula) is director of Defense Studies at the Center for the National Interest, founded in 1994 by President Richard M. Nixon, as well as executive editor on its publishing arm, The National Interest. Kazianis previously served on the foreign policy team of the 2016 Ted Cruz presidential campaign. He has also held positions as Foreign Policy Communications Manager at the Heritage Foundation, editor-in-chief of The Diplomat as well as a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The views voiced in this article are his own.