WASHINGTON — National security analysts sparred over whether President Donald Trump should meet face-to-face with the North Korean dictator.
“President Trump should meet with Kim Jong Un, as long as the U.S. and North Korea agree to the logistics of the event so that it does not serve as a massive propaganda success for Kim Jong Un that helps stabilize his increasingly insecure regime,” said Ryan Mauro, director of Clarion Intelligence Network, a nonprofit think tank. “Any comments afterwards must explicitly state that the human rights of North Koreans are not being cut out of U.S. policy objectives.”
But Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) Eurasia Program co-chair John Haines disagreed.
“What has the NK regime done to merit a face-to-face meeting with the POTUS?,” he asked. “The answer to that is absolutely nothing, so I suppose the “message” is that it’s a low to non-existent bar to get a face-to-face with the POTUS.”
On Thursday evening, South Korean National Security Adviser Chung Eui-Yong told White House reporters that Trump had agreed to meet with Kim sometime before May. Chung met with Kim earlier in the week and relayed that the North Korean dictator had expressed a desire to discuss denuclearization and finally accept U.S. military presence in the region.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders later confirmed that Trump had agreed to meet with Kim.
North Korea has said it will halt ballistic missiles tests while the meeting is being arranged. The U.S. has implemented successive rounds of economic sanctions against Pyongyang in response to the tests. The sanctions have wreaked havoc on North Korea’s state-run economy and have forced the regime to more heavily rely on assistance from China.
Mauro said negotiations with North Korea will be complex.
“North Korea will inevitably cheat on any deal, even if it is just to test what we are really willing to accept,” he said. “Cheating on deals is sometimes seen as a form of negotiation. If the incentives are strong enough to cooperate, and the punishments are strong enough to deter disobedience, then the regime will cooperate.”
However, Mauro said “complete denuclearization” is an unlikely scenario because North Korea sees nuclear development as “essential for its survival.”
Haines applauded Trump for stepping up sanctions as a means of forcing Kim to the negotiating table but said meeting the dictator face-to-face would set a bad precedent.
Haines suggested that if Trump is wiling to meet with Kim he might also be willing to meet with leaders of other rogue states.
“Is President Trump prepared to do likewise with the Iranian regime?,” he asked. “To what end?”
Haines said the optics of a failed meeting could prove disastrous.
“For POTUS to be seen to fail in a face-to-face negotiation to curtail the NK regime is probably the worst of all possible outcomes, and by some reckonings, the most likely one at this juncture.”