Premature Congratulations

President Donald Trump tweeted congratulations to himself Wednesday morning for having solved one of the world’s most vexing foreign policy problems: The North Korean nuclear crisis.

This is absurd. And it’s dangerous. Supporters of the president encouraging his premature triumphalism are making war with North Korea more likely.

Before the South Koreans came to the White House to offer Trump a face-to-face meeting with Kim, top Trump administration officials said there would be no talks before North Korea took steps toward denuclearization. On March 6, days before the summit was announced, Vice President Mike Pence, in a statement egime will not change until we see credible, verifiable, and concrete steps toward denuclearization.

In the excitement of a possible “historic” bilateral meeting that would generate worldwide television coverage, the White House abandoned this position. This was our first concession, and it was a big one. It demonstrated that Trump could be convinced to abandon a hardline position on denuclearization—and without any concessions from North Korea. That’s exactly what happened. The U.S. position was simple: No negotiations without verifiable steps toward denuclearization. In a moment, it was the U.S. position no longer and, in that same moment, Kim saw that our resolve wasn’t what it had seeme
Now, with the North Koreans having done nothing other than make a promise they’ve broken repeatedly, the president is declaring the problem solved. So, in four months, with the North Koreans having taken no credible, verifiable, or concrete steps, the Trump administration has moved from “no talks, period” to “there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”

A subsequent Trump tweet makes clear the origins of Trump’s confidence: “We save a fortune by not doing war games, as long as we are negotiating in good faith – which both sides are!”

There is no way to know whether the North Koreans, after three decades of duplicity, are negotiating in good faith. And there are many reasons, hard lessons learned over many years, to assume the opposite. But Trump, in his eagerness to declare victory, has chosen to set them aside in favor of a naïve assumption that everything has changed. “He trusts me and I trust him,” Trump said after his meeting.

Comments like these directly undermine Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the crucial work ahead constructing a verification regime. What’s the need for such a verification regime if the U.S. president trusts Kim Jong-un without qualification and if, as Trump claims, there is “no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea?” The entire purpose of such inspections is to demonstrate the “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula.

Again, Trump deserves credit for his decision to abandon the unimaginative strategy that produced three decades of failure in North Korea. And, for obvious reasons, we should all want Trump’s unconventional gambit to succeed. If Trump’s new approach led to a new opening for diplomacy, his recent statements suggest that he’s positioned to make the same mistakes his predecessors made.

Diplomacy itself wasn’t the objective. A paper promise to denuclearize is not denuclearization. Kim Jong-un is not a trustworthy diplomatic partner. North Korea remains a first-order threat—to the United States and to the world.

Pretending otherwise is foolish. And encouraging President Trump’s premature triumphalism is dangerous.

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