President Trump’s willingness to become the first U.S. president to meet with North Korean communist dictator Kim Jong Un is a “high-stakes opportunity” that came about because the president abandoned the policy of his predecessors, contends the chairman of a Senate panel overseeing security in East Asia.
“We’re in this position because President Trump rightfully abandoned strategic patience, the failed doctrine of the previous administration, and has moved toward a doctrine of maximum pressure,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity, in a Fox News interview Friday.
“That pressure — Kim Jong Un is feeling it very much — is why we’re having this opportunity to talk,” Gardner said.
South Korean security adviser Chung Eui-Yong affirmed to Trump at the White House Thursday night “that his leadership and his maximum pressure policy together with international solidarity brought us to this juncture.”
Gardner described the doctrine of strategic patience as “if you act bad enough long enough, you get what you want.”
Under the “maximum pressure” doctrine, the senator said, “it’s economic, it’s diplomatic, it’s publicly named and shaming Kim Jong Un for heinous acts he created.”
“I mean, the guy killed his step brother with chemical weapons, and we’ve sanctioned him as a result of that,” he said.
“We’re not going to be satisfied by just letting him hold us hostage to his nuclear program.”
Since the early 1990s, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the U.S. has engaged in a “pattern of offering carrots to North Korea, only to get smacked with sticks in return,” Bruce Thornton, a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, observed in 2012, during the Obama administration.
“That is how the North got the bomb in the first place, engaging in ‘negotiations’ and dangling promises of cooperation in exchange for aid and time,” he said.
North Korea broke nuclear agreements negotiated with the U.S. in 1994 under Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, Kim il Sung, and in 2005 under his father, Kim Jong Il.
Gardner said the way forward is continuing to work with Japan, South Korea and other alllies “to make sure we continue pressure to actually get to denuclearization.”
Former U.S. Ambassador Chris Hill, who represented the U.S. in multilateral talks with North Korea during the George W. Bush administration, told NPR Thursday night the development is “extraordinary,” particularly because of the heated rhetoric in recent months, with Trump referring to Kim as “Little Rocket Man” and a “madman,” and Kim referring to Trump as a “lunatic” and “loser.”
Trump’s unconventional approach may have brought about the summit, Hill said.
“Frankly, he may be right about some of this, because it was pretty clear that the U.S. was kind of going relentlessly on this issue,” Hill said on “All Things Considered.” “And he’s such a — how to put it — different kind of president that — he seemed to be prepared to talk about things that other presidents have not been prepared to talk about.”
Hill noted the recent discussion in Washington about the so-called “bloody nose” and “the idea that somehow we could launch some kind of strike against the North Koreans.”
“So it could be that this kind of attitude unconstrained by what anyone in the past has done kind of gave the North Koreans pause,” Hill said.
Bolton: ‘fear of force’
Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton agreed the proposed meeting is the result of Trump’s tough posture toward North Korea while cautioning the chances of negotiating denuclearization are very low.
“I don’t think this meeting was produced by economic sanctions,” he said in an interview with the Fox News Channel’s Harris Faulkner Friday. “It was produced because, unlike Barack Obama, when Donald Trump says I’m prepared to look at military force, he’s serious. He doesn’t want to use military force … but unlike Obama and some of the other predecessors, he’s not afraid to use it. And I think the North Koreans have figured that out.”
He cautioned, however, that he thinks the chances of reaching a diplomatic solution in which North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons “are pretty remote.”
“But I think they increase in direct proportion to their fear that Trump might use military force,” he said.
Bolton said he believes Kim asked for the meeting with Trump because he is trying to “buy time” to complete his weapons program.
“North Korea is very close to achieving its objective of being able to deliver nuclear warheads to targets in the United States via ballistic missile, and they want to buy time to get across that finish line,” Bolton said.
But the former ambassador said Trump’s response likely caught Kim by surprise.
“I don’t think that Kim Jong Un expected that the president was going to take up his offer,” Bolton said. “I think he believed he would get the usual response of six months of diplomatic preparation and nine months of talks that would go on forever.”
The South Korean delegation that met with Kim and conveyed to Trump the dictator’s willingness to meet said a meeting could take place in May.
Bolton said Trump should ask for a meeting right away, at the end of March.
“If Kim Jong Un isn’t really seriously prepared to talk about the logistics of denuclearization, I think it could be a very short meeting,” he said.
Bolton suggested Trump say at the meeting: “Well, I’m delighted to be here … to talk about how we’re going to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and North Korea specifically.
“So, let’s get into cases right away. What ports should American freighters sail into and what air bases should American cargo planes land at so that we can dismantle your nuclear weapons program, put it in those planes and boats and sail it back to America to put it at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which is where the Libyan nuclear weapons program now lives?”
Bolton noted that was essentially the conversation that the British and the Americans had with Libya, when dictator Moammar Gadhafi agreed to dismantle his nuclear program.
“That’s the kind of conversation we should have with Kim Jong Un,” Bolton said. “And if that’s not what he’s prepared to talk about, it could be a very short meeting.”
He suggested the meeting take place at the Palace of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, the former headquarters of the League of Nations and now U.N. property.
It should be held in the room where in January 1991 Secretary of State Jim Baker met with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz in what the Russians called “a pause for peace” and President George H.W. Bush called “going the extra mile for peace.”
Bolton noted Baker tried to deliver a letter from President Bush to Saddam Hussein.
“Tariq Aziz wasn’t listening, and a week later Desert Storm began,” Bolton recalled.
“I think Kim Jong Un should sit in that room and think about what it means to play around with an American president,” he said.
Sanders: Nothing changed in U.S. position
At the White House press briefing Friday, spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the agreement to meet with Kim doesn’t change Washington’s position with North Korea.
“We’re going to continue the maximum pressure campaign, we’re going to continue working with our allies and partners to do that, and we’re going to continue ask them to step up and do more,” she said. “Nothing is changing from our side when it comes to this conversation.”
Trump said in a Twitter message regarding the summit that Kim talked with the South Korean representatives about denuclearization, not just a freeze, and there will be no missile testing.
“Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached,” he wrote.
Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze. Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time. Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 9, 2018
Sanders insisted no concessions have been made, and the Trump administration wants to see concrete and verifiable action by North Korea before the president sits down with Kim.
Susan Rice, who served as President Obama’s national security adviser, insisted in an interview Friday with MSNBC that Trump must re-hire former Obama officials familiar with North Korea to engage in the negotiations.
“I think it’s absolutely imperative that the president draws on the expertise that does exist in the United States on North Korea,” she said.
“Little of it remains in the administration, unfortunately, because we’re hemorrhaging experts and diplomats.”
Rice said it would be “a very wise move for the president and the secretary of state to recall our diplomats and experts who have negotiated with North Korea on a bipartisan basis and consult with them extensively.”
Pyongyang’s chief tactic over the past two decades could be described as “nuclear blackmail,” essentially issuing periodic threats to launch a nuclear missile at U.S. allies in Asia, or the U.S. itself, followed by negotiations, an easing of sanctions and aid.
North Korea specialist Joshua Stanton has warned that “the appeasement of Pyongyang is a fool’s errand.”
“North Korea has violated or summarily withdrawn from an armistice, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, two IAEA safeguards agreements, an inter-Korean denuclearization agreement, two agreed frameworks, a joint denuclearization statement, the Leap Day agreement, and six U.N. Security Council resolutions,” Stanton said in an analysis in November 2016.
And yet, he wrote, “the most stubborn ‘engagers’ of Pyongyang look on this clear historical record and declare that it calls for yet another piece of paper.”
The North Korean government’s view of the United States can be seen in a memorandum issued by its foreign ministry in the fall of 2016 titled “The DPRK’s Strengthening of its Nuclear Forces Is a Righteous Choice to Defend Itself from the Extreme Moves of the U.S. to Stifle It.”
It’s not nuclear tests that are to blame for the tensions, the communist government contends, it’s “the U.S. hostile policy.”
The nine-page memo reads in part:
All the facts above clearly substantiate the truth that the root cause of escalated tension on the Korean peninsula lies with the U.S. hostile policy and nuclear threats against the DPRK, not the latter’s nuclear and missile tests.
The DPRK has chosen the road of possessing nuclear weapons as a self-defensive measure to safeguard its state and system from the constant nuclear threat of the U.S. We are strengthening our nuclear forces both in quality and quantity, holding fast to the line of simultaneously developing the national economy and nuclear forces as our strategic line.
The U.S. should face up to the new strategic position of the DPRK and take actual measures to show that they are willing to scrap its anachronistic hostile policy and nuclear threat against the DPRK.
This, and only this will be the first base of resolving all the issues.
North Korea’s definition of “hostile policy” includes “U.N. and U.S. sanctions, South Korea’s defensive and deterrent military exercises, missile defense, criticism of Kim Jong Un’s crimes against humanity, and quite possibly the First Amendment right of private citizens to ridicule the dictator.”
Stanton, who served as an Army judge advocate in South Korea from 1998 to 2002 and as a fellow at the House Foreign Affairs Committee, advising on North Korea-related legislation, said what North Korea really wants is a peace treaty negotiation.
“The longer and more inconclusive, the better,” he added.
“Its diplomatic strategy is to draw the U.S. and South Korea into an extended ‘peace process’ in which it would make a series of up-front demands (the lifting of sanctions) in exchange for (at most) a partial freeze of its nuclear programs, which would effectively recognize it as a de facto nuclear weapons state,” he said.
Stanton testified in 2006 before the House International Relations Committee, as it was then known, regarding the state of the U.S.-South Korean alliance.
He said that if Pyongyang had its way, it would also demand the end to U.S.-South Korean military exercises, the curtailment of missile defense, and other actions that would ensure its nuclear and military hegemony over South Korea.
“Then, Pyongyang would demand an end to diplomatic and humanitarian criticism of its regime, censorship of anti-regime leaflets, demonstrations, and satirical films — in short, a limited recognition of its political supremacy over Seoul that would end in a one-country-two-systems Korea under North Korean domination, with Pyongyang gradually escalating its financial and political demands.”
In 2012, shortly after Kim Jong Un took power, Pyongyang defied U.N. resolutions and American threats by launching a missile that could deliver a nuclear payload to the West Coast.
Satellite intelligence showed that the North was also preparing for more nuclear tests, indicating they have no intention of stopping their development of more nuclear weapons.
The provocation came a few weeks after Obama struck a deal offering 240,000 metric tons of food in exchange for promises to freeze the weapons program, noted Bruce Thornton, a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and a professor of classics and humanities at the California State University, at the time.
“This pattern of offering carrots to North Korea, only to get smacked with sticks in return, has been going on for decades now, under both Republican and Democratic administrations,” he said in 2012.
“That is how the North got the bomb in the first place, engaging in ‘negotiations’ and dangling promises of cooperation in exchange for aid and time.”
Thornton said both North Korea and Iran “have been taught by the West that our threats, exception-riddled sanctions, and U.N bluster are all pretexts for an unwillingness to use force, which both regimes interpret as weakness.”
Writing in the Atlantic in 2005, Scott Stossel noted at the time that North Korea was believed to have as many as 10 nuclear missiles and was thought to be the first developing nation to be capable of striking the continental United States with a long-range ballistic missile.
It also was believed to have large stockpiles of chemical weapons — including mustard gas, sarin, VX nerve agent — and biological weapons, including anthrax, botulism, cholera, hemorrhagic fever, plague, smallpox, typhoid, yellow fever.
Pentagon experts, he said, have estimated that the first 90 days of such a conflict might produce 300,000 to 500,000 South Korean and American military casualties, along with hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths.
Another serious threat, he said, is that terrorists will detonate a nuclear bomb in an American city.
Stanton said North Korea should be on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
“As long as North Korea suffers no adverse consequences for its terrorism, it will continue to murder human rights activists and dissidents in exile who risk their lives to bring us the truth about their homeland,” he wrote. ” In a land of scarcity, truth may be North Korea’s scarcest commodity of all. Sadly, the truth about North Korea is becoming increasingly scarce in Foggy Bottom, too,” he said, referring to the State Department.
‘A sea of fire’
The current crisis can be traced back to 1993 when North Korea declared that proposed International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of two of its nuclear sites would be violations of its sovereignty.
Tensions rose as Pyongyang threatened to begin converting 8,000 spent fuel rods into weaponizable nuclear material, warning it could turn Seoul into “a sea of fire.”
In June 1994, President Bill Clinton was preparing to evacuate American civilians from South Korea when word came that Jimmy Carter — who was in Pyongyang as an independent citizen — had reached a preliminary deal with the North Koreans.
In October 1994, the U.S. and allies South Korea and Japan signed an “Agreed Framework” with Pyongyang, providing North Korea with light-water nuclear reactors and with 500,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil annually in exchange for freezing nuclear-weapons development.
Republicans in Congress slammed the agreement as “appeasement.”
It turned out that their skepticism was warranted.
In 2002, U.S. intelligence found that North Korea was secretly enriching uranium. Shortly thereafter, it restarted its plutonium program, reprocessing the 8,000 spent fuel rods it had kept in storage since the signing of the Agreed Framework.
A year later, Pyongyang said it had finished the processing, meaning, if the claim was true, it had enough fissile material for up to six new nuclear weapons.
The Bush administration responded by refusing to negotiate directly with the North Koreans, leading to six-party talks involving China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. But North Korea pulled out after the third round, demanding direct relations with the U.S.
In 2008, President Bush moved to save a failing disarmament agreement by removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and lifting severe financial sanctions.
But Kim Jong Il reneged on the agreement.
In 2009, North Korean arms shipments that included 122- and 240-millimeter rockets and man-portable surface-to-air missiles were intercepted in Bangkok and Dubai on their way to Iran. The suspected recipients included Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, which had killed American soldiers in Iraq.
In 2010, North Korea sank a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors, and shelled a South Korean fishing village, killing two Marines and two civilians. It also carried out cyber attacks and made threats against South Korean newspapers and television stations.
Beginning in 2011, North Korea launched an assassination campaign against its critics abroad, using syringes disguised as pens and loaded with lethal neostigmine bromide.
The murder last year of Kim Jong Un’s half brother Kim Jong Nam in Malaysia by two woman who smeared a banned VX nerve agent on his face at an airport bears the marks of a such a plot. The assassination is believed to have been ordered by the dictator himself.