North Korea

Report: Trump Shuts Down His North Korea Negotiator

JM Ashby
Written by JM Ashby

Everything we know about Trump's recent meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un tells us that talks fell apart at the last second because Trump personally tossed out the work of his staff who had been working on an agreement of some description; an agreement that Trump had not necessarily agreed to because no two members of the Trump regime are ever on the same page.

Now, in response to his own flailing, Time reports that Trump has shut down his top negotiator to North Korea and taken more direct control.

In recent days, Trump shut down an effort by Stephen Biegun, nominally the Administration’s lead negotiator with Pyongyang, to reestablish a back channel through the North’s United Nations mission in New York, according to four U.S. and South Korean officials. [...]

Trump’s insistence on serving as his own lead negotiator, concentrating decision making at the White House has rattled not only U.S. officials outside the White House, but also their counterparts in South Korea and Japan, all the officials said.

One fear, said one foreign official familiar with U.S. diplomacy on the issue who spoke only on the condition of anonymity, is that while Trump did not strike a deal with Kim at their recent summit in Hanoi, he still might agree to one now. The official fears Trump might lift some or all the economic sanctions on Pyongyang in exchange for a North Korean pledge to continue a freeze on development and testing of new missiles and warheads and halt efforts to develop a reliable intercontinental ballistic missile and reentry vehicle capable of striking targets in the U.S.

If Trump agrees to do this -- if he agrees to lift economic sanctions in exchange for what North Korea has already done as some foreign officials fear -- that's the game. It's over.

I believe Trump has already ensured that North Korea will have nuclear weapons when he leaves office, but this would make that outcome less speculative and more formal.

It's not that I necessarily believe a different president could have negotiated North Korea out of their nuclear weapons program, but I do firmly believe that any other president would not have legitimized Kim Jong-un's regime in the manner that Trump has. And Trump's behavior toward Kim Jong-un has other consequences that extend beyond the North's weapons program. Trump has more or less put a smile on the face of a regime that brutally tortures and kills their own citizens in labor camps and gulags.

Future presidents will find it more difficult to negotiate with other regimes because of Trump's behavior toward North Korea. Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal while hugging Kim Jong-un, a dictator who actually has nuclear weapons already. Why should anyone trust us?

  • Christopher Foxx

    To a large extent I don’t get the “Trump has legitimized Kim” meme. Sure, Trump may think Kim is the peachy keenest thing ever, but that doesn’t mean anyone else who does have a lick of sense has to.

    What? Leaders around the world now say “I was thinking Kim was extremely dangerous and we need to put pressure and sanctions on him but, gee, Trump seems to like him so I guess I was wrong and now have to treat him with respect.”


    • katanahamon

      This is where that whole subtle “customs and norms” thing comes in. By simply inviting a despotic, murderous tyrant to sit at a conference table in a formal, dignified setting, you are conferring to this individual a status that they not only don’t deserve, but shouldn’t be accorded.

      • Christopher Foxx

        So nobody else at the table accords it to them. It’s not hard.

  • muselet

    Why should anyone trust us?

    They shouldn’t, as long as there are any Rs in government.

    Rebuilding the US’s reputation in the world will take at least a generation.


  • katanahamon

    What’s worse is that in order to clean up Rump’s messes, the next president (if Dem) will have to cancel everything he’s done, backtrack, and somehow rebuild enough trust to get agreements forged. We may be locked in a cycle of each President canceling everything the previous one has done..good luck negotiating under that framework!

    • Christopher Foxx

      What’s worse is that in order to clean up Rump’s messes, the next president (if Dem) will have to cancel everything he’s done

      Undoing what Trump’s done would be worse? If the next person were to undo everything Trump has done, that’s the least I’d hope for

      • katanahamon

        Yeah, I wasn’t clear. It’s the precedent of the partisan look of undoing completely what a previous president did. Anyone who’s read my virulently anti Rump commentary knows that I couldn’t be happier if we could simply erase him from history, and that I think it should be done.

        • Christopher Foxx

          Oh, I didn’t doubt your opposition to Trump. Never occurred to me you were otherwise. The phrasing just sounded odd to me. 🙂

          Setting the precedent is a worry. Of course I’m all for the next person reversing everything Trump does, and would object if the next person after that then used the same “authority” to re-reverse things. Which is, of course, the problem. Swords are double-edged.

          Which, also of course, is why we need to stick to accepted norms. Recognizing that we won’t always get what we want because that same applies to the other guys. To protect ourselves from their overreach we need to not overreach ourselves.