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Experts: North Korea talks likely to happen, but maybe not likely to succeed

As Trump turns on the sugar, there's still plenty to be sour about.

People in Seoul, South Korea, watch a news report about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. CREDIT: Jung Yeon-je / AFP / Getty Images
People in Seoul, South Korea, watch a news report about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. CREDIT: Jung Yeon-je / AFP / Getty Images

With Kim Jong Un signaling he’s met key preconditions for talks with the United States about his country’s nuclear program, a once-unthinkable summit between the North Korean totalitarian and the White House is significantly closer to actually happening.

But that means the prospect of the U.S. getting rolled in any such discussions is also closer to hand — some experts think Kim may have already outmaneuvered U.S. President Donald Trump.

I worry about the way the summit is being set up, Kim Jong-un has grabbed the initiative, he’s going to demand concessions and if we’re not willing to make them, we look like we’re not going forward with the diplomatic track,” former Pentagon and CIA official Jeremy Bash said Friday night on MSNBC.

Bash noted that Kim’s announcement of an end to nuclear testing doesn’t mean he’s giving up the systems and testing data he has, let alone relinquishing whatever strike capabilities his program has achieved.

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And the regime Kim inherited is fully capable of swindling the West with unkept nuclear promises again as it has before, Bash said.

“He’s merely saying, I have enough testing data, I have all of my weapons. I may even have the ability to deliver to the United States,” Bash said. “We’re a long way away from the end result we all need, which is effectively North Korea dismantling its nuclear program.”

Still, the news that Kim had announced the end of testing on state television and also had dropped his old demand for all U.S. troops to leave the Korean peninsula before he’d discuss ending his nuclear program suggests talks are on track to happen, said Joe Cirincione of the de-nuclearization non-profit Ploughshares Fund.

But he splashed a bit of cold water on hopes for a major breakthrough.

“If Donald Trump thinks he’s going to go to the summit and come back with Kim Jong Un’s nuclear weapons in the cargo hold of Air Force One, he’s delusional,” Cirincione said.

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But the arrows are starting to point in the right direction with today’s announcements, the odds went up that the summit will happen at all, and the odds went up that it might be a successful summit,” he said.

“We’re a long way from ‘dotard’ and ‘rocket man’ now. You saw President Trump’s tweet today. It was respectful. It was diplomatic.”

Every step Kim has announced so far is reversible, Cirincione stressed. And with the North Koreans having boxed Trump in as Bass noted, there are big questions about the diplomatic costs being incurred elsewhere.

Trump’s new gentility toward Pyeongyang contrasts sharply with his vituperative take on the Iran nuclear deal struck by the Obama administration. That has a destabilizing effect on the broader Middle East, both men said, and may also scramble older alliances built on the idea that the U.S. is a reliable, steady global partner.

“How does it look to the world if we’re saying ‘Obama’s Iran deal is terrible, it’s awful, but yet this deal with North Korea, it’s terrific, we have to embrace it’,” Bash said.

“Very inconsistent messages and something that I think will cause a very destabilizing effect in the middle east.”

And then there’s the image boost that Bash told MSNBC Trump is handing to the North Korean dictator whether or not they ever ultimately strike a deal.

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“We are elevating Kim Jong Un undoubtedly by putting him next to the president of the United States, and that may be troublesome,”  he said.