As many of us spent the weekend celebrating Easter brunch or a Passover Seder, Mike Pompeo secretly slipped into North Korea to test the prospects for President Trump’s most daring diplomatic gambit. The C.I.A. director’s covert talks with North Korea’s mercurial young leader, Kim Jong Un, apparently went well. “Meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning, shortly before his golf game with the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. “Details of Summit are being worked out now. Denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!”
The clandestine visit was reminiscent of the former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s secret trip to Beijing, in 1971, to prepare for President Nixon’s historic summit with Mao Zedong, then considered America’s primary nemesis in Asia. The Pompeo mission has generated cautious optimism that Trump’s summit with Kim, now America’s main foe in Asia, will actually happen. It’s tentatively scheduled for late May or early June. The lightning pace of the new U.S.-Korean diplomacy—sparked by Kim’s conciliatory New Year’s speech—had earlier generated concern in Washington that expectations were too high and events unfolding too fast.
“Pompeo’s visit signifies that both sides are very serious about making the summit happen,” Frank Aum, a former senior adviser on North Korea in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, who is now at the U.S. Institute of Peace, told me. “If there was any ambiguity about whether it would happen, it’s slowly dispelling. It’s encouraging.” Trump expressed optimism about the prospects of diplomacy after the Pompeo trip. “We have come a long way with North Korea,” Trump said at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “We’ve never been in a position like this with any regime, whether father, grandfather or son.” But he acknowledged the uncertainty of the initiative. “If we don’t think it will be successful, we won’t have it. If the meeting is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting.”
The U.S. goals are still daunting: they include formally ending the Korean War, sixty-five years after a truce was declared; normalizing relations with the most vilified nation in the world; ridding the regime of nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles capable of hitting the United States—and ultimately changing the strategic balance of power in East Asia. Trump will have to give in return. In the past, North Korea has sought the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from the Korean Peninsula, the end of sanctions, and economic aid.
All previous U.S. diplomatic initiatives with North Korea—to end the war and stem its weapons programs—have failed. [Continue reading…]
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