It looks like he wanted to make it official. US President Donald Trump made it clear he would not seek the early denuclearization of North Korea. That dashed hopes for a prompt, permanent resolution of the issue heightened by his historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un a little over a month ago.
What’s disappointing is that the retreat comes from none other than Trump himself, since he had pledged time and again he would not repeat the mistakes of past US administrations.
He accused his predecessors, including Barack Obama, of allowing the North to buy time to build up its nuclear arsenal and missile capability.
Trump and his aides said the “strategic patience” policy of the Obama administration was nothing but inaction -- and that it was over. The latest developments show, however, that the world now is witnessing a sort of “Trumpian patience.”
In the latest in his series of remarks on North Korea, Trump said Tuesday that there is “no time limit and no speed limit” to the denuclearization negotiations with the North. This is a virtual declaration that you should not expect any progress in the near future.
Before the no limit remarks he made after meeting US Congress leaders at the White House, Trump had indicated on several occasions he would not seek a quick dismantlement of the North’s nuclear and missile capacity.
He said he was in no rush and the negotiations with the North were a process, and the process “could be longer than anybody would like.”
This is a different Trump from the man whose “maximum pressure” and unveiled threats of pre-emptive strikes against key facilities in North Korea brought its ever-defiant, reclusive leader to the negotiation table.
Kim did take some actions -- mostly superficial -- to facilitate a peaceful resolution. It destroyed a nuclear test site and promised to dismantle a major missile engine test facility. Besides, the North released three Korean-Americans after years of detention.
The historic summit, however, did not come close to a breakthrough. The two leaders managed to agree on an ambiguous “complete denuclearization,” avoiding the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement that Trump and his aides had said should be their only and ultimate goal. Yet Trump trumpeted the summit as a major diplomatic achievement.
Since the summit, Trump has bragged that he prevented a war that could have claimed many lives. He also has emphasized the North has not tested a single nuclear bomb or missile in the past nine months. He will also trumpet the planned takeover of the first batch of the remains of American soldiers killed in the North during the Korean War as a major diplomatic coup of his administration.
Despite all the political spin, what’s obvious now is that, faced by the North’s refusal to agree to a concrete timeline and road map, the Trump administration is accommodating the North’s phased, synchronous approach to denuclearization. Trump, in the face of a lack of any foreign policy accomplishments, may well want to save the deal with the North, especially in consideration of midterm elections in November.
Whenever he encountered by criticism about the lack of progress in denuclearization, Trump has insisted sanctions against the Kim regime remain in place. But cracks could emerge as time goes by, as seen in China’s relaxation of economic interactions with the North. Even the South Korean government failed to keep North Korean coal amounting to 9,000 metric tons from being shipped to the South via Russia last year.
Trump compared negotiations for the denuclearization of the North to cooking a turkey. He said the more they rush the turkey while cooking, the worse it’s going to be. “The longer we take, the better,” he said.
As the US president dances to the tune of the North, notorious for its delay and disruption tactics, the turkey is destined to burn up and dry out. Trump has turned out to be no better a cook than his predecessors.