Trump, prepare to walk out of summit if North Korea won’t denuclearize

Trump, prepare to walk out of summit if North Korea won’t denuclearize
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On June 12, President Donald Trump could truly make history in Singapore — and I don’t mean by meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. 

For if Trump does not secure a firm commitment from North Korea on denuclearization that is credible and verifiable before the summit, either in the form of a joint communique to be issued during the meeting or in some format before, Trump needs to do the unthinkable — again: Cancel the meeting once more or even walk out.


The danger here is simple. Doing anything less runs the risk of appearing to defacto accept a North Korea armed with nuclear weapons. The ramifications of such a mistake would ripple throughout Asia and around the world — nearly guaranteeing the spread of even more deadly atomic arms and damaging America’s alliances around the world.


At the moment, it appears Team Trump’s North Korea strategy is at a crossroads. Likely disappointed that, at least it appears, Pyongyang would not agree to what the Trump administration referred to as CVID — the complete, verifiable, irreversible, denuclearization of the hermit kingdom, the administration has decided to change tack.

What might have occurred is that North Korea, wanting all the benefits of a summit with the U.S., may only be willing to give a nuclear pledge for a summit, not wanting to give away a big concession and wanting something equally big in return. If that is the case, it seems Team Trump is willing to play ball. 

While we do not have specifics, the administration seems to be trying to woo the Kim regime into a long-term denuclearization plan, in an attempt to allay Pyongyang’s security concerns, that its future is brighter by giving up its nuclear weapons than holding on to them. 

I would argue that the administration in the run-up to the June 12 summit is now pushing to craft some sort of agreement with the Kim regime, most likely in the form of a joint communique, in a pledge to make sure Kim is serious about getting rid of his nukes.

This is where things could still yet fall apart and scrap any potential meeting. History teaches us that North Korea has most likely no intention of ever getting rid of its nuclear weapons. Pyongyang has time and time again broken almost every nuclear pledge it has ever committed. To make matters worse, the Kim family will sell almost any weapons technology it creates, even going so far as to build Syria a nuclear reactor — which was destroyed by Israel — only roughly a decade ago.

What Trump must do is clear: Explain to the North Koreans they must be willing to make their nuclear pledge the focus of the summit. If they are unwilling to agree to such a pledge before the summit, Trump must cancel the meeting. Period.

But North Korea is not stupid. If this is what is happening behind the scenes, Pyongyang might already have a strategy in mind to box in Team Trump, to ensure Kim gets the photo of a lifetime and critical legitimacy he can use for propaganda value at home for decades. North Korea might drive a tough bargain in the lead-up to the summit, appearing to agree to a joint communique or statement on its nuclear weapons. But then, during the meeting, once Kim has his precious photo, he could try and water down the language or even try to get it scrapped altogether.

This is where President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump: McConnell 'helpless' to stop Biden from packing court Romney on NRSC awarding Trump: Not 'my preference' McConnell sidesteps Trump calling him 'dumb son of a b----' MORE could make some real history. If North Korea did try and get out of a nuclear pledge, Trump would need to stand firm and explain that Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal is the price of joining the international community in any meaningful sense. If they are unwilling to make such a pledge, Trump must depart the meeting, showing the Kim regime he means business — and is willing to walk away from making history if the deal is not worth making.

Clearly, the Trump administration has made tremendous progress when it comes to lessening tensions with North Korea. Gone, at least for now, are the days when Pyongyang was flinging missiles across the Pacific or seeing headlines filled with threats of “bloody nose” attacks or even nuclear war. But now comes the hard part, for the administration cannot normalize relations with North Korea without securing a pledge on Kim agreeing to give up his nuclear weapons. That must be the price for a successful summit — or a summit at all. If Kim will not agree to that, Trump must walk away — again.

Harry J. Kazianis (@grecianformula) is director of Defense Studies at theCenter 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.