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Can Trump Come Back from a Blunder on North Korea

from American Ambassadors Live!

The Kim dynasty has long sought to bring legitimacy to the country formally known as Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and informally as North Korea. The long-standing position of the U.S. Government (USG) has been that diplomatic recognition will not be extended to the DPRK until its supreme leader signs a peace treaty with the Republic of Korea (ROK), informally known as South Korea.

A meeting with the president of the United States would grant that legitimacy to the DPRK and make a hero of Kim Jong-Un but without securing a peace treaty or any other concession. Kim will not give up his nuclear weapons based on a single meeting. The path to denuclearization will be long and hard and will require concessions from the United States and security guarantees by the People’s Republic of China.

President Trump’s acceptance of the invitation appears to have been impulsive. The New York Times and Washington Post have each confirmed that Trump did not seek the advice of his National Security Advisor or of his Secretary of Defense before his meeting with the envoys from South Korea who delivered the invitation to meet with the DPRK’s “Supreme Leader.”

There are signs that this meeting will not happen, which may well reflect the fact that those in this Administration that have extensive foreign policy experience have now explained the complexity of the issue to the President.

Without regard to the capricious way that this came about, seasoned diplomats would now try a gambit to make the most of the current state of play. If Kim’s appetite for a meeting is now so strong, he might be willing to accept a peace treaty and diplomatic recognition as the price of the meeting. After all, a peace treaty and diplomatic recognition could offer the DPRK a degree of security. At this point, U.S. policy implies a desire to overthrow the Kim Dynasty. With diplomatic recognition, the USG will be expected to forego that goal. Only then can we move forward with negotiations toward denuclearization.

Diplomatic efforts, like a chess game, are best played with the king hanging back. We believe that the President would now be wise to move other pieces on the board before over committing himself.

Note: The author served as Counselor to the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency when an earlier administration considered negotiations with the DPRK.


Ambassador Holwill served as U.S Ambassador to Ecuador from 1988 to 1989. Following his ambassadorship, he served as Counselor to the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. His areas of expertise include international trade, international investment disputes, and the resolution of business problems in foreign markets.

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