On North Korea, Trump’s Lies Come Back to Haunt Him

This is from an article at Reuters, not The Onion:

Iran warned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday against trusting U.S. President Donald Trump, saying he could cancel their denuclearization agreement within hours.

Tehran cited its own experience in offering the advice to Kim a month after Washington withdrew from a similar deal with Iran.

Apparently it’s true, Iran warned North Korea about entering into an agreement with Trump. Of course, Iran has an agenda in doing so, but the Iranians also have a point. And the same thing could be said in reverse, North Korea has a long history of making commitments that they don’t follow through on. That is precisely why so many people are taking these latest overtures with a grain of salt.

Now that the so-called “historic meeting” between Trump and Kim has taken place, confusion abounds about what was discussed and what the two sides agreed to. First came the questions of whether or not Trump had agreed to halt military exercises with South Korea, something that wasn’t publicly mentioned when he was with Kim and came as a surprise to both our allies in South Korea and military professionals here at home. This morning the president affirmed that it was part of the agreement, although it didn’t show up in the document they signed.

If this turns out to be true, Trump gave up something of substance that undermines our relationship with an important ally and got nothing concrete in return.

Reports from North Korea are sowing some even deeper confusion.

On Wednesday North Korean state media said that in addition to suspending joint military drills, Trump agreed to lift sanctions against North Korea.

A report from the Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s state news agency, said Trump agreed to “lift sanctions … along with advance in improving the mutual relationship through dialogue and negotiation.”

Under normal circumstances, we would simply write that off as propaganda from the North Koreans. The problem is that, because of Trump’s record of lying, we don’t trust him and apparently there is no recording of what the two leaders talked about during their one-on-one meeting. There are several possibilities of what might have happened:

  1. Trump was unclear in discussing sanctions relief,
  2. Trump made the promise as is being reported in North Korea, or
  3. North Korea knows that people don’t trust Trump to tell the truth and is playing games to gain an advantage.

The president further confused the issue with this:

An unequivocal statement that “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea” indicates that the problem has been solved, even though North Korea still has nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. Trump seems to think that “the deal” has been struck and it’s simply a matter of the peons penning the details.

It’s impossible to predict where all this goes because a lot of that depends on the unpredictable North Koreans. But I can imagine this back-and-forth going on for months as Trump claims to have rid the world of a nuclear threat while Kim smiles, shakes hands, and tells his country that he has brought the president of the United States to heel. The upside is that Kim won’t feel the need to use his nuclear weapons. The downside is that they’ll still be there if/when things change.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.