Setting the bar high

Well, that was easy.

After a single meeting in Singapore, President Trump has, in his own fantastical telling, rendered North Korea “no longer a nuclear threat.” Never mind that North Korea still has as many as 60 nuclear weapons, scores of ballistic missiles and an untold number of facilities that are producing plutonium and enriched uranium.

Unfortunately for the president, containing a nuclear power requires more than just one meeting. Negotiating an end to North Korea’s nuclear threat will take deliberation, political courage — and time.

The broad outlines of an agreement would be similar to proposals and pacts the United States has developed over the decades to restrain countries with nuclear ambitions: In return for curbing their nuclear programs and allowing international verification, such countries are offered economic, political and security benefits.

That was the core of the 1994 Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea, which fell apart by 2003; a 2006 proposal to Iran by France, Britain, Germany, Russia, China and the United States that went nowhere; and the far more rigorous 2015 Iran deal that involved the same five powers and that Mr. Trump reneged on.

With North Korea, there are two unique complications: It already has an arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles, including an ICBM that can reach the United States, and the locations of many its nuclear sites are unknown, making verification hard if not impossible.

And since Mr. Trump has denounced the Iran deal, with its uniquely intrusive inspections and strict requirements for significantly reducing nuclear fuel and other nuclear-related components, as the “worst ever,” he has set quite a high bar for an accord with North Korea. In fact, he says he is insisting on “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization,” presumably meaning eliminating all of North Korea’s atomic weapons and production facilities. That outcome would be an extraordinary achievement.

But Mr. Trump has been known to underdeliver on his grander promises, and no nation with a nuclear program this advanced has ever disarmed so completely. So what would a more plausible yet still positive deal look like?

SCOPE: In the Iran deal, Tehran agreed to strict controls on its nuclear program in exchange for economic benefits — sanctions relief. Mr. Trump could seek a broader deal with North Korea by offering wider benefits, not just sanctions relief but also security guarantees and full diplomatic relations. This would allow the administration to pursue curbs on North Korea’s missiles, chemical and biological weapons and technology exports, too. The president has said of Kim Jong-un, “I will guarantee his safety.” That is a ridiculous commitment no president could keep, or want to, since it would have the United States protecting one of the world’s worst human rights abusers. Instead, the administration could promise not to try to overthrow Mr. Kim and could reiterate the pledge the United States made in the 1994 Agreed Framework, to work toward peace on the Korean Peninsula. In exchange, North Korea would curb those other weapons and perhaps resolve the fate of South Korean and Japanese citizens North Korea has abducted. A peace treaty to resolve the Korean War 65 years after an armistice was signed could be considered, if it wouldn’t bog down the nuclear negotiations.

The New York Times

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