Allies on edge over Trump summit with North Korea


President Trump’s goal of winning a historic deal with North Korea is worrying allies who fear he will give away too much to score a political victory.

A rushed deal is of particular concern to Japan and to a lesser extent South Korea, both of which question whether Trump’s “America First” mentality will result in a deal that keeps America safe but not its allies.

{mosads}“I know the Koreans and the Japanese are anxious about a number of issues,” said Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. “[Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe was very adamant on that issue [when he visited Trump last week] — you may be worried about [intercontinental ballistic missiles], but we’re worried about medium-range missiles, and that all has to be part of the package. My sense is that there’s the same sentiment on the part of the Koreans.”

The Trump administration is preparing for a historic summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which is expected to take place in May or June.

Over the weekend, Trump took exception to NBC host Chuck Todd’s assertion that North Korea has already “gotten a lot out of” the planned summit without the United States getting much in return.

“I have to tell you, there’s a lot of people asking, ‘There’s not many preconditions the United States is asking for. So far, in this potential summit North Koreans have gotten a lot of out it, what has the United States gotten yet?’ ” Todd said Sunday on “Meet the Press.”

“We don’t have a release of any of those Americans that they’ve held captive,” he continued. “We don’t have a pledge of denuclearization as the ultimate goal. There’s a lot of things they are not promising that is raising some red flags.”

Trump shot back on Twitter that “we haven’t given up anything & they have agreed to denuclearization (so great for World), site closure, & no more testing!”

“We are a long way from conclusion on North Korea, maybe things will work out, and maybe they won’t – only time will tell … But the work I am doing now should have been done a long time ago!” Trump continued in a second tweet.

On Friday night Washington time, North Korea announced that it “no longer need[s]” to conduct nuclear and missile tests because the country has “verified the completion of nuclear weapons.” As such, Pyongyang said it would stop testing and shutter its Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

The North has told South Korean and U.S. officials it is willing to discuss denuclearization, but has not committed to it. Many analysts took Friday’s announcement as a sign that Pyongyang is solidifying its status as a nuclear state, rather than announcing its intention to give up its weapons.

“I don’t see a lot new coming from North Korea. It’s not clear they’re making any great sacrifices,” Manning said. “The North Koreans are much smarter than us and they’ve been doing this for a long time. They know how to play us.”

Several analysts said there are signs Punggye-ri is no longer usable anyway, though prominent nuclear monitor 38 North said Monday “there is no basis to conclude that the Punggye-ri nuclear test site is no longer viable for future nuclear testing.”

North Korea’s announcement could be an attempt to get on Trump’s good side ahead of the summit in hopes for concessions such as sanctions relief, said Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest.

That’s why, he said, the meeting needs to be highly scripted, which he believes the Trump administration is preparing to do based on CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s meeting with Kim.

“If they just agreed to a straight-up meeting … then Kim takes a picture and splashes it all over North Korea, and he’s solidified his power for decades just on that one thing. That’s a thing Trump has to be extremely concerned about,” Kazianis said. “These are scripted events where outcomes are predetermined. If you’re just hoping to throw these two in a room and make some sort of grand bargain, it’s going to go bad.”

Meanwhile, Japan is nervous that it is being left out as Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in prepare to meet with Kim.

“Japan is most nervous right now that there’s going to be some kind of partial denuclearization or some kind of freeze that still leaves Japan vulnerable,” said Jim Schoff, a senior fellow in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Asia Program.

Denuclearization is more of a priority than eliminating short- and medium-range missiles, but Japan continues to raise the issue to make a point, he added.

“It’s more a symbol of their needs being forgotten or overlooked or deprioritized. They’re raising it to make sure they stay in the game,” he said.

An official at the Japanese Embassy told The Hill on Monday that there was concern about the short- and medium-range missiles, but said Abe’s visit to Mar-a-Lago last week reassured Japan any deal would cover the “full range of missiles.”

Schoff also said Japan has “some concerns” with Trump promising “a speedy transition or more front-loaded transition” of denuclearization for sanctions relief, but noted that something like United Nations sanctions cannot be lifted unilaterally.

Robert Gallucci, the chief U.S. negotiator during the 1994 North Korean nuclear crisis and a self-described Trump critic, cautioned against focusing too much on the potential concessions over what the United States has to gain from a deal.

“There is an instinct to think that when the U.S. agrees to meet it is a concession, that he made this huge concession by agreeing to meet with Kim. Under the circumstances of being at the edge of the cliff, I’m pretty happy, because I think talk-talk is better than shoot-shoot,” Gallucci said. “Could he f— up? Yes. But we all could.”

Before Trump even gets in a room with Kim, Moon has his own summit with the North Korean leader on Friday.

Several analysts said that’s where the concern should lie, as Moon appears intent on making peace on the Korean Peninsula.

“First things is, Moon doesn’t do anything to undercut the [South Korea]–U.S. alliance,” Gallucci said.

And it’s that split Kim would exploit to get the concessions he seeks, experts said.

“Kim is shifting the jury,” Schoff said, “or making the arguments to the jury such that he can get more of a split decision such that he can get more avenues to soften the sanctions regime.”

Tags Donald Trump Mike Pompeo

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