This editorial first appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The harsh words coming from North Korea over the weekend about denuclearization underscore the weaknesses of President Donald Trump’s personal style of diplomacy — the one where he assumes that his charm and powers of persuasion will win global adversaries over to his line of thinking. It clearly didn’t work with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and once again, the two nations are bickering.
Trump erred from the beginning by overhyping the prospects for a North Korean nuclear disarmament agreement after his June 12 meeting in Singapore with Kim. The prospects for such an agreement were never better than minuscule despite all of the statements of goodwill and rapprochement from both sides. Trump added to the likelihood of failure by excluding his top nuclear experts from the talks and assuming that he could wing it once he met face-to-face with Kim.
The result was a vague communique that glossed over major points of disagreement and clearly misled the rest of the world about the extent of their progress. The communique mentioned an agreement on “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” without describing in any detail what that meant.
Just after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo concluded a two-day trip to Pyongyang to nail down some specifics, North Korea denounced the U.S. attitude Saturday as “regrettable” and characterized the United States as having made a “unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization.”
Contrast that with Pompeo’s statement that the visit was “productive” and that progress had been made “on almost all of the central issues.” Someone isn’t telling the truth about what really happened.
The secretary later sounded flummoxed by the North Korean reaction. “If those requests were gangster-like, then the world is a gangster because there was a unanimous decision at the U.N. Security Council about what needs to be achieved,” he told reporters.
Pompeo made clear that international sanctions will continue to be enforced with “great vigor” against North Korea. It was the prospect of getting sanctions lifted that brought North Korea to the table.
Trump tried Monday to downplay the significance of the new rift, tweeting that he has “confidence that Kim Jong Un will honor the contract we signed &, even more importantly, our handshake. … China, on the other hand, may be exerting negative pressure on a deal because of our posture on Chinese Trade-Hope Not!”
Trump naively continues to believe that the power of his handshake is enough to make a duplicitous adversary suddenly transform into a reliable negotiating partner.
Trump’s penchant for big talk and wild exaggerations has backfired once again. Only this time, he has put the United States back on a path toward confrontation with a dangerous and unpredictable new nuclear power.