Speaking at the State Department on Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence was clear on where negotiations on North Korean denuclearization stood: “While the president has started a promising dialogue with Chairman Kim, we still await concrete steps by North Korea to dismantle the nuclear weapons that threaten our people and our allies in the region.”
As President Trump sets the stage for a second meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, he should heed Pence’s assessment.
North Korea has not only failed take steps towards denuclearization, but it has also acted in bad faith. As satellite images make clear, the reclusive dictatorship is not dismantling its weapons systems but taking steps to conceal its operations and weapons.
Pyongyang, despite asking in those flowery letters to Trump for repeated dialogue, has instead abruptly canceled meetings, including with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while also refusing to negotiate with the appointed special representative for negotiations, Stephen Biegun.
For now, Trump seems happy to ignore those disheartening developments — or really, the lack of developments.
Already this year, Trump has make clear that he still intends to move forward with denuclearization talks with Kim. On Jan. 6, he said, “With North Korea, we have a very good dialogue. I’m going to not go any further than that. I’m just going to say it’s very special. And anybody else but me, you’d be in war right now.” More recently, a letter from Trump to Kim was hand-delivered to North Korea highlighting the ongoing relationship Trump once characterized as falling “in love” between the two leaders.
At Trump’s invitation, a North Korean envoy is expected to meet at the White House on Friday. That meeting signals Trump’s dedication to pursuing a deal with North Korea as special exceptions were needed for North Korean chief negotiator Kim Yong-chol to come to D.C., as normally he is only permitted to travel to and from the United Nations headquarters in New York.
Given recent discussions about where a second summit between the two leaders might take place, that White House meeting has fueled speculation that the envoy’s visit might lead to an announcement of a second Trump-Kim meeting.
Another meeting, a long-standing goal for Kim after the Singapore summit, should be treated as a bargaining chip, a reward for progress — not freely given at a dictator’s request. Already, as evidenced by this week’s White House meeting, the U.S. has been more than generous in demonstrating a good-faith effort towards a deal.
As Pence made clear, the problem is not that the U.S. hasn’t done enough, but that North Korea seems unwilling to budge on denuclearization. Before pledging another meeting or offering concessions, Trump needs to grasp where the negotiations currently stand. Listening to his vice president would be a good place to start.