Feb 28, 2019

Why walking away from Kim's deal may have been the right move

President Trump at a news conference following his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Photo: Tuan Mark via Getty Images

President Trump caught the world by surprise once again yesterday with a decision not to sign a deal with his North Korean counterpart, Chairman Kim Jong-un, in Hanoi, Vietnam.

The big picture: While walking away is a common tactic in working-level negotiation, what happened in Hanoi was a rare case and the least expected outcome. Nonetheless, it might have been a much-needed reality check, not a failure, for both sides in the still-early stages of a long process of negotiation.

Between the lines: The U.S. negotiators publicly admitted before the Hanoi meetings that the two countries had not yet reached consensus on a number of key concepts, nor on much of the timing and sequencing details for denuclearization and corresponding measures. In Hanoi, the two leaders continued to find more divergence than consensus.

Yes, but: A failure to reach an agreement is not necessarily a failure of diplomacy. Trump could have left Hanoi with a deal of any kind just for the sake of it, but he decided that no deal was better than an insubstantial one that could hamper future negotiations.

  • By doing so, he not only appeared as a tough negotiator to his North Korean counterpart, but also shielded himself from the potential criticism of a bad deal, affording him more domestic political slack than the alternative might have.
  • His decision also sends a warning signal to North Korea that he will not let the country continue to set the tone and pace for the negotiations.

The bottom line: A return to hostility or to the path of war remains unlikely, as both sides are still committed to a diplomatic solution. The negotiations will resume sooner or later, and the misfortune in Hanoi might impart a different kind of momentum to what is destined to be a fluctuating, arduous diplomatic process.

Gi-Wook Shin is the William J. Perry Professor of Contemporary Korea and director of the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University.

Go deeper

6 mins ago - Health

Lessons from the lockdown — and what comes next

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

We are nowhere near finished with the coronavirus, but the next phases of our response will — if we do it right — be more targeted and risk-based than the sweeping national lockdown we’re now emerging from.

Why it matters: Our experience battling this new virus has taught us a lot about what does and doesn’t work. We’ll have to apply those lessons rigorously, and keep adapting, if we have any hope of containing the virus and limiting the number of deaths from here on out.

Updated 24 mins ago - Politics & Policy

George Floyd protests: Unrest continues for 6th night across U.S.

A protest near the White House on Sunday night. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Most external lights at the White House were turned off late Sunday as the D.C. National Guard was deployed and authorities fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters nearby, per the New York Times.

What's happening: It's one of several tense, late-night standoffs between law enforcement and demonstrators in the United States over the death of George Floyd and other police-related killings of black people.

Updated 25 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Noam Galai, Jamie McCarthy, Josep Lago/AFP, Alfredo Estrella/AFP, and Narayan Maharjan/NurPhoto, all via Getty Images

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 5 a.m. ET: 6,181,781 — Total deaths: 372,136— Total recoveries — 2,646,874Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 5 a.m. ET: 1,790,191 — Total deaths: 104,383— Total recoveries: 444,758 — Total tested: 16,936,891Map.
  3. Public health: Black Americans' competing crisesCoronavirus looms over George Floyd protests across the country.
  4. 2020: AIPAC conference in March 2021 canceled.
  5. Economy: What U.S. workplaces may look like next — Both part of America's unfinished businessFuture of mobility in post-pandemic world.
  6. World: Former FDA commissioner says "this is not the time" to cut ties with WHO — White House sends 2 million doses of hydroxychloroquine to Brazil, 1,000 ventilators to come.