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We all know how much President Donald Trump loves photo ops with strongmen. The latest was his high drama pose with Kim Jong Un, on the north side of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, last week.

Announced by tweet, improvised at the last minute, this move was another instance of Trump’s overtures to autocrats and dictators — on grounds that warm relationships will morph into great political deals.

If Trump’s embrace of Kim – “we fell in love,” he says — could persuade this killer to give up his nuclear weapons, the president would indeed deserve a Nobel Peace Prize.

Trudy Rubin mug

Trudy Rubin | The Philadelphia Inquirer

After Trump’s first meeting with Kim, last year in Singapore, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo bragged that Kim was committed to “denuclearization” and would eliminate his arsenal by January 2021.

Yet in the year since the Singapore summit, there has been zero progress toward that goal. Kim’s arsenal of 30 to 60 nuclear warheads remains and more fissile material is being produced daily.

Even as Trump’s embrace transforms Kim from global pariah into international star, the North Korean makes no commitment to dismantle his weaponry.

Nor has he shown much interest in serious talks. (He’s rumored to have murdered one of his chief negotiators.) He prefers to engage in fuzzy tete-a-tetes with America’s great leader.

Trump’s personal diplomacy with Kim may have tamped down the war talk that both sides were engaged in in 2017. But so far Trump’s “friendship” with Kim has accomplished nothing when it comes to getting rid of North Korea’s nukes.

Indeed, the two sides have so far failed even to agree on what they are negotiating about.

The key is their differing definitions of the term denuclearization.

At the time of the Singapore summit, the Trump team highlighted the phrase “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” which was inserted in the joint Trump-Kim statement. It argued this meant Kim was committed to getting rid of his nukes in the short or medium term.

“Our definition of denuclearization is that they give up all their fissile material and facilities and the nuclear material is taken out, irrevocably and verifiably,” I was told by the Brookings Institute’s Jung Pak, a former senior CIA Korea analyst.

North Korea begs to differ. Every Korea expert I’ve spoken with warns that the North Koreans interpreted the phrase differently, insisting the United States must withdraw its nuclear umbrella over South Korea and the region.

In turn, Pyongyang would gradually dismantle parts of its program and weapons over the very long term in return for the lifting of international sanctions — with no guarantee that Kim would give all of his weapons up.

That difference of interpretation still undermines any future negotiations.

“We’ll never get to our destination if we don’t know where we are going,” said Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, at an Atlantic Council-East Asia Foundation strategic dialogue last month. “Denuclearization sits at the center of this discussion. So it is very important for us to agree up front on what that definition is.

“We can’t make enough progress without meaningful verifiable steps on denuclearization (which is ) absolutely at the core.”

I asked Biegun whether any progress was made in finding a common definition at the second Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi in February. “Nothing was agreed to in Hanoi,” he replied. “We don’t have that agreed definition of what denuclearization is.”

At their meeting on the DMZ last week, Trump and Kim never mentioned the D-word.

It’s understandable that Kim wants to leave that definition vague.

The North Korean nuclear arsenal is Pyongyang’s guarantee that Kim can maintain his insular, repressive regime under the control of his family. No guarantees by Trump, or even by China, are likely to persuade him to jettison all his weapons, as U.S. intelligence agencies have tried to tell Trump.

Moreover, the administration’s fantasy film at the Singapore summit promoting a vision of North Korea as a future economic powerhouse in Asia doesn’t fit reality either, as U.S. intelligence agencies could also tell the president if he listened.

If Kim opened up his closed regime, and his citizens can compare the wealth of neighboring South Korea with their impoverished country, they would probably rise up against him. He can’t afford the risk, and will probably prefer limited foreign investment in industrial zones he can carefully control.

The best the administration may achieve is limiting Kim’s future expansion of his arsenal. But even that requires that the two sides agree on a common definition of what denuclearization is, and that North Korea provide an itemization of its nuclear facilities and weapons.

The big question now is whether Trump can, or even wants to, transform his “friendship” with Kim into serious talks, or whether the president is content to continue one-on-one extravaganzas.

Those photo ops are tempting. But more summits without substance will only help Kim cement his country’s status as a nuclear power.

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Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Readers may write to her at: Philadelphia Inquirer, P.O. Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101, or by email at trubin@phillynews.com.

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(29) comments

PhysicsIsFun

Meanwhile Iran threatens to start manufacturing fissile material in its centrifuges and considers capturing a British Ship in retaliation for the UK military detaining an Iranian vessel off the coast of Gibraltar. We had a deal with Iran to prevent all of this dangerous behavior, but it was negotiated by President Obama, and Trump just can't abide that. So the USA pulled out. Trump seems to just love President Kim who has nuclear weapons, while he provokes Iran into getting them. Is his goal to see as many countries with this world destroying technology as possible? Trump is dangerous and Bolton may be even worse.

Rick Czeczok

This opinion and most of the response are the dumbest of dumb. How the hell would any of you know what is truly going on in the background? Do you have some secret insider we should know about? What a bunch of idiots.

Jobaba

Do you?

Jobaba

Read the title of this editorial. No? Still don't get it? Read the editorial where it explains IN DETAIL how no progress on nukes has been made. A photo op for our Chief Dullard doesn't quite add up to overwhelming the fact that North Korea adds to its nuclear arsenal every day.Missile tests are done, why fire more? History? For walking over an imaginary line? Trump and his supporters are being taken for a magical ride by Kim and being used by him for world wide legitimacy. Yes, it has been peaceful since the cease fire was agreed upon. How many years of peace? More years than Trump months in office.

DMoney

The last ballistic missles tested, over 6 months ago, failed. They have no working method to deliver their nukes. Therefore, their nukes are useless. What point is having bullets if you have no gun? These talks are preventing the development of this delivery system. Think before you type.

martian2

Nk has had successful missile tests that experts think would of had the capability to reach the US, So you can dream all you want there D, reality is what it is. Where you got the idea of preventing a delivery system must be a far out right wing site. They can't even agree on what denuclearize means. You would of thought that would of been hashed out before the all the photo ops. But why do that when you can get your picture flashed around the world shaking hands with a murderous tyrant.

oldhomey

The larger danger with both North Korea and Iran having nuclear warheads is not so much how they would deliver them as an act of nuclear attack with conventional means of airplanes or missiles. It is the danger of suitcase bombs and how they or radical groups they assist bringing weapons into our country or those of our allies surreptitiously, taking out a city as a terrorist act. Before Donald Trump, North Korea was treated as a pariah nation by most of the rest of the world. He has given Kim and his country prestige that it never, ever enjoyed in its history, making it all the more difficult to convince that country to give up its nuclear program. Kim never will give it up, of course, as it is the only insurance policy he has of keeping himself and his family in power. But the worldwide sanctions were designed to erode the quality of life in that country to the point that the North Koreans themselves, or at least a faction close to the center of power, would seize control and negotiate a nuclear settlement to give their countrymen a better life.

johnnybragatti

Spot on Cass, Kimbo,as trump refers to the killer, has been lobbing,on and off, projectiles, ever since their so-called "historic visit." Too funny, on how the summit really went. The vice minister Kim Gwan mentioned the fact, that if trump tries to back North Korea into a corner, there won"t be another meeting.Now we know why the 2nd summit failed. The humpers wil rant and rave, about what trumps done in North Korea : nada !!! They will thoroughly believe ANYthing, the most prolific liar, in history, will tell them.

Cassandra2

Another Trump failure. But his apologists will soon be on this forum to spread false claims and defend the idiot.

capedcrusader

DMoney?

DMoney

I have no need to defend Trump on this. His actions and results speak for themselves. I find it very funny that liberals can criticize him for "not doing enough" when he's the first president in US history to enter NK. And the first to meet with their leader. He's doing everything possible to help. Can you name what more he could do?

oldhomey

Correct, D. Trump is doing everything he can to help Kim solidify his position as a rogue nuclear power. What is "false" is the complacency that you display when you think that since Trump blundered into this that a "peace" has been established. Read the column again. Do you actually think work has stopped on ICBM development in North Korea? They are testing intermediate missiles still, and you can be sure that developmental work continues on ICBMs. They continue to develop more fissile material to arm nuclear warheads. They have not closed down any of their known nuclear development sites. Trump has achieved in North Korea absolutely nothing, while in Iran, where there was an actual, verifiable stop in that nation's development of nuclear arms, Trump has single-handedly inspired Iran to restart its efforts. You are complicit in allowing this raging ignoramus skrew up the entire international scene by your blind support of him. Shame on you.

DMoney

The only way to develop and produce ballistic missles is by testing them. They haven't done that. Intermediate and short range missles are simple, single or double stage rockets with small warheads. Getting a rocket into the upper stratosphere and delivered 1000+ miles requires ample testing over years. They are not close. And as long as they don't practice, they can let that nuclear material grow. It's a waste. Regarding Iran, funny how they went from "stopping" their nuclear production to producing record amounts overnight. A lot of good the "deal" did. They are back in action like they never stopped. Trump never made a promise to end NKs nuclear threat. He's not acting under a deadline or an ultimatum. He's taking an opportunity to make progress and running with it. He's building trust and dialogue to lay the groundwork for future progress. He's done a phenomenal job and if he sees it through, which is not out of the question considering said progress and with potentially 6 more years, he would win the Nobel prize as this liberal loon columnist says.

oldhomey

See my comments above about suitcase bombs, D. But you can bet your sweet bippy the North Koreans are doing all sorts of ICBM developmental work in this hiatus. Of course they will have to test them eventually. Why wouldn't they? They certainly have no intention of stopping their nuclear weapons research. Trump was an unbelievable gift to Kim, who had him pegged, a you will recall, from the start as a "dotard".

martian2

so they can let their nuclear material grow, its a waste says D. Now you can see how many right wingers when cornered by their own bad logic, revert to bizarre twisted thinking that can only be found on far right news sites. D bends over backwards twisting himself into a pretzel to justify Trump's foreign policy. Its ok that NK has lots of nuclear material, but not Iran cause Trump says so. Trump declared Nk was no longer a nuclear threat, that is tantamount to a promise. Why don't you hold him to it D? Iran deal is no good you say because they are violating it now. Well you forget that it is Trump who pulled out of the treaty first, unilaterally, with nothing to replace it with, just threats of retaliation. What great strategy that is. Makes about as much sense as your posts.

DMoney

What's "false" about zero wars, zero ballistic missile tests, zero nuke tests, zero skirmishes and deaths with them since negotiations took place? It's been peaceful for months, with more peace on the horizon. Would you prefer the status quo with the constant and real threat of war?

martian2

you are a dreamer D. As they continue to develop their capabilities you turn a blind eye and think everything is rosy. You never mention Iran, and how Trump is dealing with them. He likes to p*ss them off while NK he embraces as a long lost brother. History has shown us (I know history you think is useless) is you don't coddle and appease tyrants who are the epitome of evil in this world. We didn't do it with Stalin, Mao, Mussolini, or others. Why do it now with NK but not Iran? answer that one big shot.

oldhomey

Please if you will, D, cite some press coverage over the last 25 years or so in which the U.S. was sweating a constant and real threat of war with Korea. I don't recall those war drums rolling constantly without let upl, but you are, as you say, the most informed person on these boards when it comes to geopolitics and war, particularly WWII, of which you say you have devoured literally or figuratively, depending on how you feel at the time of making the boast, 5,000 history books devoted to that conflict. What I recall, since North Korea managed to develop a nuclear weapon, is that the U.S. and other world and regional powers have been doing to isolate the murderous ruling family of North Korea and forcing it to give up its nuclear program in the face of extremely harsh economic and other sanctions. It hasn't worked yet, so I don't think promising some Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's franchises in the North is going to get Kim to magically give in, either. But I defer to your superior expertise in these matters.

capedcrusader

DMoney?

DMoney

BefyI answer more in depth, you need to pick one:. Isolation and pressure, or diplomacy and dialogue. Trump is engaged in both. Therefore you can't possibly logically be critical of both. Pick the one he's messing up and the one he's doing well at. Both can't possibly be wrong.

DMoney

*before

martian2

diplomacy and dialogue are one thing, coddling and promoting and encouraging a murderous dictator is another. Photo ops before they can even agree on what certain words mean is a publicity stunt with no substance. And you are being taken for a fool as Nk keeps up and expands its nuclear arsenal.

oldhomey

Thank you, martian. Well said in your 7:10am post.

DMoney

No nuclear tests, no ICBM tests, no artillery exchanges, no naval battles, no talk of imminent war, no carrier battle groups stationed off the coast. That's my answer. It's true, it's real, and it's undebatable.

DMoney

Ok, so you prefer the approach with NK over the approach with Iran? If you had to pick one.

oldhomey

D, there are a number of people on these boards who think we have an ignoramus in the White House who has broken all protocols and needlessly junked decades of effort to stop the spread of nuclear armaments into the Third World. We don't like what he is doing in North Korea or Iran. There is no choice to be made except to return to sane policies and efforts with our allies. This is not a "go it alone" proposition in either case. You seem to suggest one approach is better than the other in differentiating Trump's efforts in North Korea and Iran. I answered your question, so answer mine: Which of these two approaches do you favor?

oldhomey

D? You asked me to choose, and I answered. Now I have asked you to choose, and you are silent. What gives? There seems to be a pattern with you. You get cornered, you go silent, hoping the column will age out and disappear and we will forget that you had nothing credible to say in your own defense.

DMoney

You don't get it. You can't possibly say he's taking the wrong approach with both situations. This isn't a subjective question. It's literal. You can only logically have it one way, not both. He's currently doing what you think is right in NK and not in Iran. So you prefer the NK approach? I do as well. There are times to apply pressure, but in the case of Iran, it could easily result in a shooting war. It's a risk we shouldn't take, considering we're not in prime position with a coalition built and adequate resources in place. I think Trump ought to go on another charm offensive with them. The old deal was pathetic, whatever the case. It's not a deal at all when it doesn't include guarantees from both parties.

oldhomey

I posed a question that was subjective? What was this, D? "DMoney Jul 12, 2019 9:02pm "Ok, so you prefer the approach with NK over the approach with Iran? If you had to pick one." D, I said clearly that Trump is taking the wrong approach with both North Korea and Iran. Am I stupidly alone in this opinion? No, pretty mch every other government in the world takes the position I do, a fact that, I assure you, went a long way in me forming my opinion, as nobody else is looking to me for advice on this. In this case, we are not presented with an either or approach to two completely separate situations. The correct answer is "neither", but I suppose I should not say that with such certitude when addressing somebody with the vast knowledge of geopolitics that you say you have acquired.

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