North Korea’s recent temper tantrum over U.S.-South Korean military exercises and its threat to pull out of its upcoming summit with President Trump are signs that Trump’s North Korea strategy is working.
Over the past several months, Trump has boxed in Kim Jong Un. First, he ramped up economic pressure on Pyongyang while making clear that, unlike his predecessors, he was willing to take military action. Yet when Kim offered to meet face-to-face, Trump shocked everyone (probably including Kim) by reportedly accepting on the spot. Instead of rejecting the offer, or using it as a bargaining chip to elicit concessions, Trump said “yes” and put the two nations on a faster track to nuclear negotiations than anyone had anticipated.
Then, the president began shaping the parameters of an agreement — starting with making clear what kind of deal he would not cut. The North Koreans want a nuclear deal like the one President Barack Obama gave to Iran: sanctions relief up front, billions of dollars in cash, a weak inspection regime and sunset clauses on the back end. By withdrawing from the Iran deal last week, Trump sent Pyongyang a crystal-clear message: I don’t cut deals like that.
He then used his senior officials to lay out the parameters of the kind of accord he would cut. Kim wants to get paid for the promise of denuclearization. Appearing on “Face the Nation,” national security adviser John Bolton played the bad cop and explained that that is not happening. Trump will only pay for actual denuclearization. The president, Bolton said, is looking for “a manifestation of the strategic decision to give up nuclear weapons [that] doesn’t have to be the same as Libya but it’s got to be something concrete and tangible it may be that Kim Jong Un has some ideas and we should hear him out.”
While Bolton set expectations for denuclearization, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo played the good cop and held out the twin carrots of security and prosperity if Kim agrees. “If North Korea takes bold action to quickly denuclearize,” Pompeo said, “the United States is prepared to work with North Korea to achieve prosperity on par with our South Korean friends.” That stunning offer is deeply destabilizing for Kim. If he goes to a summit with Trump and refuses to accept a deal