- KCNA/via REUTERS
- President Donald Trump canceled a planned summit with Kim Jong Un on Thursday, one day after North Korea issued the US an ultimatum: “Meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown.”
- Trump seems to have picked the showdown, which will be harder on North Korea than the US.
- North Korea in mid-May flipped from pursuing peace talks without complaining about US or South Korean activity to forcefully condemning both countries and senior Trump administration officials.
- But if North Korea convinced China to go easy on it while the Trump summit was on the table, then it scored a big win.
President Donald Trump canceled the planned summit with Kim Jong Un on Thursday, one day after North Korea issued the US an ultimatum: “Meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown.”
It looks like Trump chose the showdown, but not without reason.
North Korea in mid-May flipped from pursuing peace talks without complaining about US or South Korean activity to forcefully condemning both countries and senior Trump administration officials.
Around this time, North Korea began to signal plainly that it would not give up its nuclear weapons. North Korea allowed international journalists to watch as it destroyed its nuclear test site, but a country with working nuclear warheads doesn’t need to test weapons.
North Korea’s most recent statement bashed US Vice President Mike Pence and laid down an ultimatum that recalled the nuclear brinkmanship of 2017.
“We will neither beg the U.S. for dialogue nor take the trouble to persuade them if they do not want to sit together with us,” it wrote. “Whether the U.S. will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behavior of the United States.”
But Trump had his own ultimatums, saying that North Korea could make a deal with the US to its benefit, or it could get the “Libya model,” which has become synonymous with regime change.
“The model, if you look at that model with Gaddafi, that was a total decimation. We went in there to beat him,” Trump said after North Korea changed its tune. “But if we make a deal, I think Kim Jong Un is going to be very, very happy.”
Experts agree with near unanimity that North Korea never really intended to denuclearize. Kim has written North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons into its constitution.
Instead, North Korea’s diplomatic offensive appeared to focus on gaining international support and fracturing the nearly air-tight sanctions regime the US had managed to impose on it.
As president, one of Trump’s greatest foreign policy successes had been getting China, North Korea’s main trading partner and ally, to adhere to US-led sanctions.
But Kim has now twice visited China’s President Xi Jinping, whom he had never met before Trump agreed to a North Korean summit. If Kim has convinced Xi to stick by North Korea in the face of US pressure, then the diplomacy has worked.
For Trump and the US, a return to the nuclear showdown with North Korea means little. North Korea has long threatened the US with nuclear weapons, and the US has long greatly outmatched North Korea’s nuclear strength.
For North Korea, the return to the nuclear showdown means a return to the crippling sanctions and isolation that defined the country for the last few decades.