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Should Trump Meet With Kim Jong Un?

Only under these conditions.

Anthony Ruggiero
5th May 2017 - Politico

President Donald Trump on Monday said he would be “honored” to meet with Kim Jong Un under the right conditions. Trump is not the first president to consider meeting a North Korean leader, but the time is not right. Such a meeting should only happen with a free and democratic government in Pyongyang or a unified Korean Peninsula.

President Bill Clinton contemplated a Pyongyang summit with Kim Jong Il—Kim Jong Un’s father and predecessor—at the end of his presidency. At the time, the bilateral relationship was seemingly on the upswing. The 1994 Agreed Framework had capped Pyongyang’s plutonium production, and the countries were building light-water reactors to replace the North’s reactor. The Kim regime also appeared to be complying with its missile flight-test moratorium following an August 1998 attempt to place a satellite into orbit.

 

At the time, the Clinton administration was pushing for normalization of relations between the countries. The No. 2 official on North Korea’s powerful National Defense Commission, Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok, visited Washington in October 2000 as Kim Jong Il’s personal envoy. He was the highest-ranking North Korean to ever visit the United States and the first to meet a sitting U.S. president. Then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright traveled to Pyongyang later that month to discuss unresolved issues on its nuclear and missile programs with Kim.

A couple of lessons emerge from those talks. First, Washington only contemplated a presidential visit after painstaking preparation and the prior exchange of envoys. A meeting with a U.S. president is an important milestone in a country’s relationship with Washington and the regime would use it as validation of its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Second, North Korea was already violating the 1994 nuclear deal as it fêted Albright in Pyongyang (she returned the favor by giving Kim a basketball signed by Michael Jordan). The CIA reported in 2001 that the regime had a uranium enrichment program – a clear violation of the Agreed Framework.

Time and again – in 20052007 and 2012 – North Korea has violated nuclear agreements with Washington. The regime launched the long-range Taepo Dong 2 missile in July 2006, revealing that research on such advanced projectiles continued despite the moratorium. It was likely also continuing development of a nuclear weapon during the Agreed Framework period, culminating in its first nuclear test in October 2006. Neither the nuclear deal nor the moratorium convinced Pyongyang to abandon its programs, and it continued research and development under the cover of a supposedly improving relationship with Washington.

The Trump administration should place three conditions on any summit meeting:

First, North Korea should end its nuclear weapons and missile programs. When Clinton was contemplating a visit to Pyongyang, his administration believed the source of material for nuclear weapons had been shuttered and there was a path toward disabling the North’s weapons program. The Kim regime’s missile program was a fraction of what exists today, and negotiations for ending that program entirely were a key objective of a possible Clinton-Kim meeting. Given Pyongyang’s prior cheating on the 1994 deal, it would likely have found a way to continue its missile program as well, while still reaping the agreement’s benefits.

Second, Pyongyang must show improvement on human rights. The North Korean regime imprisons an estimated 80,000 and 120,000 political prisoners in large prison camps, which the U.N. has compared to “the horrors of camps that totalitarian states established during the twentieth century.” North Korea also sends citizens overseas to perform the equivalent of slave labor, earning the regime close to $500 million annually. The U.S. should withhold any diplomatic recognition or moves toward a closer relationship until North Koreans are free to choose their own destiny.

Third, Kim must stop threatening the United States with nuclear war. Those threats started long before Trump’s presidency – in 2013 North Korea released the so-called “Map of Death” that identified possible targets for nuclear weapons including Washington D.C., Hawaii and San Diego. These are not idle threats, as experts predict North Korea could have a nuclear-weapon delivery system that can reach the United States as early as 2020.

By saying he would be “honored” to meet with Kim under the right circumstances, Trump could be trying to give North Korea an off-ramp to avoid Washington’s imminent campaign of increased sanctions and possible extended military deployment in the region. If North Korea were truly interested in talks, it could reopen the “New York channel” that it closed in July 2016 and demonstrate it is ready to denuclearize. If not, the United States would be fully justified in bringing down the hammer.

North Korea has presented a virtually intractable foreign policy challenge to the last three presidents, and for all of them, that challenge came early in their first terms. Ratcheting up the financial and military pressure on Pyongyang is a peaceful means for changing the regime’s behavior—and a much preferable alternative to war. A meeting with an American president could play an important role in such a strategy, but the timing must be right and should not be used to validate North Korea’s status as a nuclear state. A summit between the leaders of the decades-long foes could one day happen, but it would have to be with a very different North Korea.

Anthony Ruggiero is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @_ARuggiero

Tags

human-rights, kim-jong-un, north-korea, trump