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What an embassy in Pyongyang could mean for the U.S.

A television news screen showing President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong at a train station in Seoul.
A television news screen showing President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong at a train station in Seoul. Photo: Jung Yeon-je/AFP/Getty Images

Following Jonathan Swan's scoop that President Trump is open to establishing official relations with North Korea, including potentially building a U.S. embassy in Pyongyang, Bloomberg View's Eli Lake writes that the U.S. “has historically viewed a diplomatic presence in Pyongyang not as a concession, but a benefit in and of itself."

The backdrop: The establishment of an unofficial embassy in North Korea was first presented to Kim's father, Kim Jong-Il, two decades ago by former President Bill Clinton’s defense secretary, William Perry. The idea, writes Lake, was connected to a broader proposal aimed at denuclearizing North Korea, but the deal was later rejected.

What they're saying:

  • Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper writes in his new memoir that the North Korean regime "survives because it fosters isolation" and that its citizens are skeptical of America.
  • Over time, a U.S. embassy based in Pyongyang "would provide U.S. spy agencies with new insights into a notoriously hard intelligence target and also give North Koreans direct access to America, a country demonized by the dictatorship," Lake writes.
  • Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, disagrees. Scarlatoiu tells Lake it's "wishful thinking" to presume that America would be allowed to collect insights on a regime that largely operates a vast network of informants.
"I don't think European diplomats in Pyongyang have a chance to look at the real North Korea because they are under heavy surveillance and their movements are so restricted. Why would we expect something different for American diplomats?"
— Greg Scarlatoiu

Be smart: President Trump had said he's keeping all options on the table ahead of his meeting with Kim Jong-un in Singapore. However, Trump has also attempted to dial back expectations, and has cautioned that normalizing relations between the two countries will take several meetings to achieve, if possible. The summit is purely the beginning of that process, he emphasized.