Few aspects of the Trump administration are as fraught with peril or with promise than President Donald Trump's relationship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
Trump over the weekend became the first sitting U.S. president to step on North Korean soil on Sunday, crossing the 1953 armistice line between North and South Korea during a last-minute trip to the Korean Demilitarized Zone to continue nuclear talks with Kim.
This is Trump's third meeting with the North Korean dictator in pursuit of a nuclear deal.
Incredible indeed. Trump's relationship with Kim has been the subject of much criticism at home and abroad. Reconciliation with a regime that in effect runs a nation-sized concentration camp is unthinkable. At the same time, Trump has to pursue the U.S. national security by convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
Can we justify a deal with a mass-murderer to deter potential nuclear war? Is it possible to even attain a credible deal with such a man?
Trump's negotiations with Kim deserve hope. Unlike his father, Kim Jong Un seems to understand the benefits of engaging with the world. Cordial relations with North Korea are, in fact, a good thing. Deescalating tensions between the U.S. and North Korea reduces the risk of serious nuclear conflict.
But Trump's attempted nuclear deal also warrants skepticism. Kim Jong Un has promised to denuclearize before and nothing has come from it.
If anything, North Korea has accelerated its nuclear and missile testing. Prior denuclearization efforts have lacked a real, spelled-out process by which North Korea should abandon its nuclear ambitions. But even if with more regulation, it's unlikely North Korea would willingly submit.
Denuclearization is, after all, Kim Jong Un's greatest bargaining chip. When the regime begins to internally hemorrhage, it need only act out in a threatening way and the world gives North Korea the attention the regime craves.
Trump sometimes seems to understand this. He scrapped a deal with Kim in February, saying, "Sometimes you have to walk." U.S. officials later said the deal failed because North Korea demanded that all nuclear sanctions be lifted in exchange for some denuclearization concessions.
Substantive progress is going to require "time," as Trump said this weekend. But it also depends on his refusal to compromise with a dictator who cares little for America's interests or her values.
Flattering Kim Jong Un, as Trump has often done in public, might give off the perception of friendship, but a self-interested leader such as Kim will care little for Trump's friendship if it doesn't give him what he wants: power.
"At some point during the negotiation, things can happen," Trump said.
And he's right. But Trump needs to begin by understanding the sort of man he's dealing with.
The Washington Examiner
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