Bob Menendez represents New Jersey in the U.S. Senate, where he is the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Under President Trump’s watch, North Korea has steadily built a significant weapons arsenal in violation of international law. It has also successfully tested three intercontinental ballistic missiles and its largest nuclear weapon yet. Only after affirming his country’s nuclear status has Kim Jong Un struck a conciliatory tone.
But we must be clear-eyed about the challenges ahead. The president’s impulsive and erratic approach to foreign policy has left our allies confused and our adversaries emboldened. If he wants to take advantage of this critical opportunity, he needs something that he has repeatedly been incapable of providing: disciplined leadership and a real strategy.
Already the summit is on shaky ground after North Korea threatened to cancel it over routine joint military exercises with South Korea. Trump must see past this gamesmanship and effectively turn Congress’s maximum economic pressure policy into the diplomatic leverage needed to come to a workable agreement. North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs remain a threat to the United States, and we need diplomacy rooted in shrewd pragmatism about Kim and his regime.
In hastily agreeing to a summit without any preconditions, Trump has already handed Kim an enormous victory by legitimizing a brutal regime that violates the human rights of its own citizens and advances aggressive policies abroad. We are barreling toward a meeting that, under the best of circumstances, will be a high-wire act with no safety net. We will face off with the dictator of a pariah state whose regime has a long history of breaking promises and violating agreements.
Yet rather than empower the State Department and the skilled diplomats best equipped for this major diplomatic initiative, the administration has eviscerated it. To this day, Trump has failed to even nominate an ambassador to South Korea.
Before this summit takes place, it is critical to consider three traps we need to avoid so that this meeting does not turn to disaster.
First and foremost, we cannot make any agreement that we cannot effectively monitor or verify. Trump might