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Why Trump failed with North Korea and China

Figuring out why President Trump failed in diplomacy with China and North Korea is important if only to extract lessons for subsequent presidents who will be more teachable and less emotionally needy than the current president. The first step is acknowledging that Trump and his negotiators have screwed up — badly.

North Korea summitry did not go awry because national security adviser John Bolton said impolitic things betraying his contempt for diplomacy. (He did and he does, but he wasn’t the cause of the breakup.) It wasn’t because Trump showed “daring” in shredding the Iran deal, thereby frightening away Kim Jong Un — or alternatively, because nixing the Iran deal told Kim we weren’t serious. (Iran deal critics and opponents should get over themselves; North Korea isn’t about them.)

The North Korea summit went by the wayside because North Korea was never serious. How do we know? The administration is fessing up obliquely on background. The negotiations did not go smoothly before ending abruptly; rather they didn’t get started in any meaningful way.

The Atlantic’s Uri Freidman reports on the background briefing:

North Korea, the official noted, had left “a trail of broken promises” since March 8, when Trump announced his intention to meet with Kim. That announcement came after a South Korean delegation to Washington informed the president that the North Korean leader was committed to denuclearization and willing to halt his nuclear and missile tests while U.S.-South Korea military exercises proceeded. First North Korea backtracked on the military exercises by furiously objecting last week to a routine joint air-force drill, the official noted. Then, after agreeing during U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s latest visit to Pyongyang to send representatives to Singapore to work out logistics for the summit, the North Koreans stood up their U.S. counterparts without explanation. The American advance team “waited and they waited. The North Koreans never showed up,” the official said. . . .

The official also cast doubt on North Korea’s much-hyped destruction of its mountainous nuclear-test site on Thursday, claiming that the North had reneged on a pledge to [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo and the South Korean government to permit international nuclear experts to witness and verify the demolition. North Korea allowed in only journalists instead. As a result, the official explained, “We will not have forensic evidence that much was accomplished. It’s possible that the tunnels were detonated in a way that will still allow them to be used in the future.”

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