No doubt there’s lots of work happening behind the scenes at the White House and around Washington to craft goals and a strategy for a summit between Trump and Kim next month. But little of that is likely to emerge publicly until Bolton gets into office as National Security Adviser next week. If this were a normal administration, we would have a better idea of some of the considerations because some of the key figures who would be involved have popped out essays this week.
Victor Cha and Katrin Fraser Katz wrote a roadmap in Foreign Affairs. You may need to register for the one-time article to read it. It lays out many of the risks that Victor wrote about for the New York Times on March 9, the day after Trump declared he’d be happy to meet Kim. The biggest, of course, is that the American side goes in with a maximalist position, as Bolton appears to have advocated, and walks out when North Korea refuses, leaving no room for any other tactic besides military confrontation. Perhaps Trump’s effort to lower expectations in that speech last Thursday reduces that risk, but who knows?
Patrick McEachern, writing at the Council of Foreign Relations, says North Korea is likely to enter talks with Trump by putting its entire laundry list on the table — and the U.S. should do the same. He writes:
“The North Koreans are not close to surrender, but the United States should not negotiate with itself and water down its opening bid before sitting down with the North Koreans either. North Korea’s past negotiating behavior suggests they will initially outline their full wish list, and there is no reason the American should not go on record with the same. Opening bids are different from anticipated outcomes, and a realistic assessment of the other side’s material and psychological motivations can help set expectations to reduce the likelihood that the leaders speak past each other at the summit. It is tempting to look for a win-lose outcome where we get everything we want from the North Koreans and give nothing in return. However, Kim is not desperate, so we should not expect him to give away the farm for free.”
In essence, another warning against Bolton’s all-or-nothing stance.
Bob Carlin, writing at 38North, writes that North Korea’s silence about a prospective summit is not silence at all. There’s plenty to read in the changed portrayal of the U.S. in North Korean media in the past few weeks. On the one hand, this seems to be holding North Korea to a lower standard of behavior than is done in most diplomacy. On the other, Carlin knows the North Koreans well and his reading of the changed rhetoric emanating from Pyongyang is matched by Chad O’Carroll’s reporting at NK News. Chad runs KCNA statements through a word analysis and finds how words like “Trump” and “drills” and “state nuclear force” have all but disappeared in recent weeks.
North Korean state media outlets refrain from mentioning key topics of contention with the U.S. ahead of a forthcoming summit meeting between KJU and Trump https://t.co/NIMJ3hTgAF pic.twitter.com/s4XBbYT1lE
— NK NEWS (@nknewsorg) April 4, 2018
North Korea continues to insist that there be no criticism of it as preparations for the inter-Korean summit are made. The South Korean government appears willing to comply, as evidenced by Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha’s it-takes-two-to-tango remarks on Wednesday that clearly accommodated North Korea. Kang made clear that South Korea wants to push denuclearization but that it has its own timetable, which she failed to specify. The Korean media portrayals, however, noted the clear division between Seoul and Washington on timing.