What went wrong for Trump in North Korea? Everything
For starters, members of his own administration — including Vice President Mike Pence and national security adviser John Bolton — leveled thinly veiled threats at Kim while Pompeo was trying to keep talks alive. As late as Wednesday, just hours before Trump pulled the plug, Pompeo said he thought they would go forward.
With an internal fight over goals, strategy and tactics fully joined, it would have been next to impossible for Kim to believe that any deal struck would stick. Trump also tried to short-circuit the normal diplomatic process, giving Kim a potential public relations victory without many concessions or conditions. And, with his criticism of his predecessors’ deal-making abilities, Trump had set a bar for himself that would have been very difficult to clear.
There was a lot for Trump to lose, and not as much to gain.
Perhaps that’s why so many of his allies, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday that he was right to cancel the summit.
The talks were star-crossed from the start, said Ellen Tauscher, who was the State Department’s undersecretary for arms control and international security affairs under President Barack Obama.
In terms of the delicate art of international nuclear negotiation, she said, it was a mistake for Trump to try to cut a deal with Kim before the details of the agreement could be worked out by their underlings. By agreeing from the very beginning to give Kim a photo op meeting with the President of the United States — publicly scheduling a summit with Trump right away, rather than using the possibility of such a session to negotiate the shape of that discussion from a position of strength — they handed a big prize to the North Korean leader. They got very little in return.
“You don’t start out, No. 1, by giving a despot and murderer like Kim what he wants, which is a photo-op with the president of the United States,” she said in an interview with NBC News. “The principals meet at the end.”
But there were major substantive problems, too, not least of which was the disagreement within the administration about the desired outcome of the talks.
“We don’t know what the Trump administration wants to do,” Tauscher said.
Less than two weeks ago, Pompeo and Bolton offered different takes on what North Korea would have to do to get the U.S. to ease economic sanctions and move toward more normal diplomatic relations.
“America’s interest here is preventing the risk that North Korea will launch a nuclear weapon into L.A. or Denver or to the very place we are sitting here,” Pompeo said from Washington on “Fox News Sunday” on May 13.
But Bolton, a longtime advocate of regime change in North Korea before he joined the Trump administration, told ABC on the same day that the goal was “getting rid of all the nuclear weapons,” not just those which imperil the U.S. He has pointed to the “Libya model,” a reference to the agreement President George W. Bush secured from Muammar Gaddafi to give up his nation’s nuclear program.