The 3 big obstacles to success if Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un meet - by CWP Alumni Patricia Kim

Tuesday, Mar 13, 2018

Thursday’s surprise announcement about a face-to-face meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un followed news earlier in the week that seemed too good to be true: North Korea is willing to discuss denuclearization with the United States. The regime reportedly promised to refrain from conducting nuclear and missile tests during the talks and says it has no reason not to denuclearize as long as North Korea’s security is guaranteed.

Reactions ranged from cautious enthusiasm to dismay that Trump had accepted the invitation — rather than negotiate at lower levels and work toward a successful summit. The White House appeared to retreat from its snap decision a bit by announcing at Friday’s news briefing that North Korea would have to take “concrete and verifiable actions” before the meeting takes place.

Given the decades of failed attempts to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem, it may take a bold meeting like this to achieve progress. But three fundamental challenges lie ahead, leaving aside concerns about Trump’s unpredictable style — even in the most optimistic case that Pyongyang is serious about denuclearization:

Challenge 1: Credibility gaps

For North Korea to lay down its nuclear weapons, Kim must be genuinely convinced that the United States will not harm his regime. This won’t be easy, given Washington’s track record of taking out dictators, most recently in Iraq and Libya.

Strengthening the credibility of U.S. assurances will require extensive measures, such as a personal guarantee by Trump, a resolution from Congress, and/or a Chinese role in serving as a guarantor of any peace agreement. But even these measures, difficult as they will be to arrange, may not go far enough to satisfy a regime that is convinced the United States seeks to overturn it.

North Koreans will face their own struggle to prove their trustworthiness, given a track record of violating deal after deal they have signed in the past. Most observers believe North Korea will cheat and continue to expand its nuclear program in coming months. To prove he is serious about denuclearization, Kim would have to accept invasive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections in not only declared nuclear sites but also undeclared military sites as well. This is something most states, let alone a reclusive one like North Korea, would find hard to accept.