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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."

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.

A smart reading-between-the-lines of the North Korean statement comes from Vipin Narang, an MIT specialist on North Korean nukes, who tweeted:

  • "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."
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Go deeper

41 mins ago - World

Putin is challenging Ukraine's "right to exist," Blinken says

Blinken (L) speaks in Berlin on Thursday. Photo: Kay Nietfeld - Pool/Getty

Secretary of State Tony Blinken put the stakes of a Russian invasion of Ukraine in stark terms on Thursday, saying Vladimir Putin's threat is a direct challenge to Ukraine's "right to exist" as an independent country and a democracy.

What he's saying: “There’s been a lot of speculation about President Putin’s true intentions, but we don’t actually have to guess. He’s told us, repeatedly. He’s laying the groundwork for an invasion because he doesn’t believe Ukraine is a sovereign nation," Blinken said during a speech in Berlin.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Jared Kushner wants to Trump-proof his private equity future

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Jared Kushner appears to have convinced the private equity market that he'll stick with his new firm, called Affinity Partners, even if his father-in-law returns to the White House.

The big picture: Private equity is littered with former presidential advisers and cabinet officials, and Trump's is proving to be no different.

2 hours ago - World

Ukraine president to Biden: "There are no minor incursions"

Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky responded on Thursday to President Biden's suggestion that a "minor incursion" by Russia may not draw the same response as a large invasion, which some in Kyiv saw as inviting Russian aggression.

What he's saying: "We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations. Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones. I say this as the President of a great power," Zelensky tweeted.

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