Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
President Trump prides himself on negotiating savvy. But North Korea is trying to outfox him with a return to harsh public rhetoric immediately after the first overnight visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who came with press in tow.
The big picture: But then Pyongyang issued a statement accusing Pompeo of trying to jam them with denuclearization demands: "The U.S. is fatally mistaken if it went to the extent of regarding that [North Korea] would be compelled to accept, out of its patience, demands reflecting its gangster-like mindset."
- Compare that to Trump's rhetoric after last month's Singapore summit. Trump tweeted: "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. ... sleep well tonight!" He assured reporters: "[T]hat problem is largely solved." On Tuesday, he congratulated himself: "If not for me, we would now be at War with North Korea!"
This was entirely predictable, and was predicted by experts:
- People who’ve worked with the president, both at the Trump Organization and in the White House, say he viscerally fears being played for a sucker and humiliated.
- But Trump has made himself quite vulnerable to embarrassment in the North Korea talks, which suggests he won’t have a great deal of patience for the entirely predictable shenanigans from Pyongyang.
- Remember how abruptly he cancelled (and then reinstated) the talks when Kim insulted Vice President Pence? We’re now in a situation where China could “rescue” the talks and leverage its power with North Korea to get a better trade deal by doing so.
- The bottom line: There’s a long road ahead to any satisfactory peace deal with North Korea; but a very short road to renewed hostilities. Should a few more things go wrong, Trump could swing abruptly against Kim Jong-un.
- "This is not the end of the process. It’s a negotiating tactic, but signals several serious things: (1) We aren’t unilaterally disarming. Stop saying it. Stop asking for it. Never going to happen. (2) Any other stuff short of that? Gonna cost you chief. And burn a lot of clock."
Be smart ... Frank Lavin, former Singapore ambassador under George W. Bush and former National Security Council summit organizer, tells me:
- "The more the Trump administration celebrates any success, the more North Korea is disincentivized from actually delivering."
- "A public proclamation of a triumph takes North Korea off the hook."
- "Better for Trump to understate the North Korea talks and label them the first step of a long journey."