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A South Korean television news report showing U.S President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Photo: Jung Yeon-je / AFP / Getty Images

Yesterday's offer by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to meet with a U.S. president and to freeze testing of nuclear weapons and missiles is a major development. But at this point, what we don’t know far exceeds what we do. We need to proceed with caution and careful diplomacy.

The invitation raises a host of vexing questions:

  1. What brought all this about? Was it the mix of economic pressure and military threats? Or is it a ploy by North Korea to get out from under the sanctions or divide the U.S. from others, including South Korea, Japan, China and Russia?
  2. Is North Korea really prepared to give up its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles after all it has done to develop them? Would this most closed of countries ever agree to intrusive inspections?
  3. What would North Korea require in return?  In addition to pushing for fewer or no sanctions, would it ask for an end to joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea? Or to the U.S. military presence in the South?

Those last requirements are possible, as North Korea has long sought to dominate the peninsula and undermine the U.S.–South Korea alliance. Given the Trump administration’s focus on nuclear and long-range missile threats, North Korea could go some ways toward meeting those U.S. demands without addressing the non-nuclear threat it would still pose to the South. Kim Jong-un might expect this approach to appeal to an American president who shows uneven commitment to allies and chafes at what he sees as the unfair costs and burdens of U.S. commitments.

What's next:  The Trump administration needs to think hard about what it is prepared to do in exchange for “success.” It should not overpay.  The process must include a way to hold North Korea accountable should diplomacy fail (an outcome more likely than not) and a well-prepared Plan B that is something other than war. All these steps require that the U.S. stay close to both South Korea and Japan, lest North Korea undermine their confidence in the U.S. and end up in a position to threaten them directly.

Richard Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of "A World in Disarray."

Go deeper

Texas House probes school library books dealing with race and sexuality

Photo: Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images

Texas state Rep. Matt Krause (R), chair of the Texas House Committee on General Investigating, announced Wednesday that he's initiating a probe into schools' library books, according to a letter sent to the state's education agency and other superintendents.

Why it matters: The probe focuses on books that discuss race, sexuality, or "make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex," Krause wrote in the letter.

4 hours ago - World

Iran agrees to resume Vienna nuclear talks in November

Ali Bagheri (R) with Enrique Mora in Tehran on Oct. 14. Photo: Iranian Foreign Ministry handout via Getty

Iran's new chief nuclear negotiator said following a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday that Iran would resume negotiations in Vienna before the end of November, with the exact date to be set next week.

Why it matters: The Vienna talks have been frozen since Iran's new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected in June. This is the most direct commitment from Raisi's government to return to the negotiating table.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Democrats' billionaires tax explained

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There is now legislative language behind the push to tax American billionaires on unrealized capital gains, as Sen. Ron Wyden last night released his 107-page plan.

Why it matters: This would be a sea change in U.S. tax policy, which has only applied to realized gains (otherwise known as income).