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A second meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been tentatively set for later in February. But recent assessments suggest North Korea remains “unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities,” as director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told senators last week.

President Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un at their summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Why it matters: Trump’s summit could be doomed not by Kim’s mercurial personality but by its impossible objective. Pyongyang may now be too close to its decades-long goal — fielding an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can strike the U.S. with a nuclear warhead — for any carrot or stick to change its course.

Where it stands: North Korea has demonstrated that it possesses both nuclear weapons and an ICBM with sufficient range to strike any target on the U.S. mainland. It has not yet unveiled a delivery vehicle that can survive atmospheric re-entry before detonating, but protracted and inconclusive negotiations with the U.S could provide time to overcome any remaining challenges.

  • Simply by agreeing to meet, Kim has neutralized Trump's threats last year to strike his nuclear and ballistic missile facilities. As a bonus, he has garnered international legitimacy while dividing the U.S. from South Korea.

Between the lines: The failure of four U.S. administrations to stop this threat stems from an assumption that Pyongyang is motivated by a search for security.

  • Yet the regime has not faced a significant threat since war ended in 1953, other than in response to its unilateral aggression. Instead, it seeks a war-fighting capability to dominate the South and even the region. And there is little evidence North Korea faces economic difficulties crippling enough to compel it to relinquish its nuclear achievements.
  • The worst misconception has been to see an ally in China, which has facilitated the threat's growth by ensuring the regime’s security from attack and undermining any sanctions that threatened its economy. China also benefits from Washington's floundering on the world stage while its public appeals for help from Beijing go unanswered.

The bottom line: It may be too late to prevent North Korea from arming itself with the capacity to destroy U.S. cities. Should it test a prototype, the resulting crisis could spark yet another round of escalating threats and U.S. warnings of military action, to be deflated by a new North Korean proposal to negotiate. More brinkmanship and frenzied alarm, all on Pyongyang’s timetable, remain the most likely outcomes.

Doug Seay is a former senior staff member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Go deeper

2 hours ago - World

U.S: Nord Stream 2 "will not move forward" if Russia invades Ukraine

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price during a press briefing at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. will make sure the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project between Russia and Germany won't go ahead if Russian troops invade Ukraine, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told NPR on Wednesday.

Why it matters: Germany's ambassador to the U.S. appeared to support Price's strong rhetoric on the strategically significant pipeline that would circumvent Ukrainian transit infrastructure and deliver Russian gas directly to Germany, eliminating one of the last deterrents Ukraine has against an invasion, per Axios' Zachary Basu.

Scoop: Stephanie Ruhle to replace Brian Williams on MSNBC

Photo: Nathan Congleton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

MSNBC will soon announce plans to move morning anchor Stephanie Ruhle to the 11 pm ET hour that Brian Williams turned into an elite destination, two sources familiar with the move tell Axios.

Details: The 9 am ET hour, currently hosted by Ruhle, will become part of MSNBC's flagship morning show, "Morning Joe," which currently runs from 6 am to 9 am ET.

Oath Keepers leader denied bail on Capitol riot sedition charge

Oath Keepers co-founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

A federal judge ordered Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes to remain jailed Wednesday until trial on charges stemming from the Capitol riot.

Why it matters: The judge said the most prominent far-right figure charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection had access to weapons and his alleged "continued advocacy for violence against the federal government" gave credence to prosecutors' view that, if released, Rhodes could endanger others.