Trump gave too much, got too little in Korean talks

Not long ago North Korea was testing ever more powerful nuclear weapons and missiles with the ability to reach the North American mainland. Meanwhile, President Trump was threatening to rain “fire and fury like the world has never seen” on the North Korean nation.

It is not a stretch to say that a miscalculation could have led to a military confrontation with the potential to escalate to a nuclear exchange.

Given that recent history, it is remarkable and far more preferable that the two sides are talking.

Unfortunately the approach taken in these talks — a meeting between the U.S. president and North Korean despot Kim Jong Un before diplomats had negotiated any substantive agreement — far better served Kim than it did the interests of the United States.

By placing Kim on the level of a U.S. president, and agreeing to cease military exercises with South Korea using language that had to make Pyongyang ecstatic — Trump gave more than he got.

While the threat of military confrontation abates for now, new post-summit dangers emerge. As has been the case with past negotiations, North Korea could be buying time, its conventional military forces in place, its nuclear weapons intact and potentially still under development, and the South Korean-U.S. alliance weakened for lack of training exercises moving forward.

And while Trump said the economic sanctions remain in place, all the sunny photo ops and Trump’s optimistic musings — “I just think it’s going to work out very nicely” — do not exactly ratchet up the pressure on China, Russia and others to keep the economic deprivation in place.

The document signed by the two men provides the thinnest of frameworks for future talks. The United States and the hypocritically named Democratic People’s Republic of Korea agree to “join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace.” They also commit “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

That’s pretty much it. There is no timetable, no definition of denuclearization, no suggestion of verification.

President Trump should have demanded that negotiations and the resulting details of a deal be much further along before he elevated Kim to the status of meeting with him.

Trump’s praise of Kim, a dynastic tyrant who has imprisoned, tortured and murdered tens of thousands of his citizens to maintain iron-fisted control, was unnecessary and ill-advised.

"Well, he is very talented. Anybody that takes over a situation like he did at 26 years of age and is able to run it and run it tough. I don't say he was nice. Very few people at that age — you can take one out of ten thousand, probably couldn’t do it," Trump told reporters.

No, Kim was not nice.

Also galling, frankly, was the administration’s agreement to a backdrop of North Korean and U.S. flags side by side, as if there was some equivalency, when there is none. That’s OK, apparently, but taking a knee in silent protest during the national anthem is treasonous.

It was also a major misstep by the president to commit to ending legitimate military exercises between U.S. and South Korean forces without getting any military concession from North Korea in return. Trump used North Korean propaganda terms, calling them “war games” and “provocative,” and in making the concession apparently caught his South Korean ally by surprise.

In 1992, the two Koreas signed the South-North Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, committing not to “test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons” and to inspections for verification. Only South Korea complied.

In 1994, President Jimmy Carter negotiated a deal with North Korea in which Pyongyang confirmed its willingness to “freeze” its nuclear weapons program and begin a three-stage process for the elimination of the program.

In July 2000, during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Il promised to end his country’s missile program.

In 2005, North Korea agreed to "abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning … to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.”

North Korea broke every promise on its path to becoming a nuclear power. Its persistence has made any thoughts of a military attack on that country a potentially colossal step in terms of death and destruction. Kim's nuclear weapons are a form of insurance. That persistence and duplicity on Tuesday placed the 34-year-old Kim on the same stage with a U.S. president.

It is hard to imagine Kim surrendering those weapons, but we would love to be pleasantly surprised.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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