North Korea has failed to follow through on commitments it made to get rid of its nuclear weapons. This should trigger punishments, but the consequence for dictator Kim Jong Un is to be another meeting with President Trump, says national security adviser John Bolton.
Why give this win to the tyrant Kim? Meeting with the president of the United States as an equal is a major victory for a man who is, essentially, the commandant of a concentration camp armed with nukes. The Trump administration is rewarding Kim’s bad behavior.
You don’t have to know that Pyongyang has a history of going back on agreements and playing negotiators for fools to know that this is a losing strategy. Rewarding bad behavior encourages more of the same. You pay for something, you’re likely to get more of it. High-profile, high-prestige meetings are Danegeld for Kim.
More of the same from Korea poses serious risks. Even as Kim talks about denuclearization, satellite images reveal that he is concealing his stockpiles of warheads rather than giving them up. The North Korean nuclear program continues apace. Meanwhile, diplomatic talks between Washington and Pyongyang have yielded little. Meetings have been canceled, and negotiations are breaking down.
Back in August, Bolton was right when he explained, “What we really need is not more rhetoric. What we need is performance from North Korea on denuclearization.”
But on Tuesday, speaking at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council, he took a different tone after again acknowledging that “they have not lived up to the commitments so far.”
Instead of demanding action from North Korea, Bolton said, “That’s why I think the president thinks that another summit is likely to be productive.”
This misunderstands the significance to the world of such a meeting. For Kim, a meeting with Trump confers legitimacy, a godsend for a pariah regime and a gift for his propaganda machine. Such a meeting should not be cheaply given, especially when a dictator demands it, as Kim did in a letter to Trump this fall.
Instead, such a meeting should come only when the tyrant has given an earnest account of his good intentions by taking clear and positive action. There must be clear signs of good faith. Rewards are due for keeping commitments, not for brushing them off.
Granting a new meeting without progress tells Kim that he can make demands, and the White House will accede even if he does nothing about denuclearizing. Why would Kim change course if Trump is willing to be led by the nose?