The Skeptics

Let's Make a Deal: How Trump Can Win Over Kim Jong-un

If such an arrangement could be struck, the next stage would be to institutionalize it into a formal moratorium along the lines of the Agreed Framework, which is the only agreement with Pyongyang that had worked well enough for a decent period of time. If, for instance, North Korea signed on the dotted line, kept its missile and nuke suspension in place over the long term, and agreed to readmit IAEA inspectors into its uranium and plutonium facilities (the IAEA hasn’t had eyes on the North’s program since the six-party talks collapsed in 2009), the United States could pledge to suspend certain unilateral and third-party sanctions on Pyongyang as long as nuclear monitors were granted freedom of movement across the country and access to all the information that the agency requests. A relaxation of some U.N. Security Council sanctions on North Korean exports of natural resources or a lifting of restrictions on North Korean diplomats could also be on the table if Pyongyang continued to abide by the moratorium and work constructively with the IAEA and if it agreed to cease the export of any military equipment, antiaircraft systems and ballistic missile technology without express approval from the Security Council on a case-by-case basis (any North Korean request could be blocked due to the U.S. veto power).

Unfortunately for the human-rights community, it’s unlikely that the United States and its allies would be able to press North Korea to stop treating its people horribly, to shut down its prison camps and to reform its political and social system. Demands such as these, while more than reasonable in the West, would be construed by Kim as a sneaky and less forceful way of promoting regime change in North Korea. What the Trump administration could do, however, is authorize sidebar talks on issues that would at least keep human rights on the agenda and would be easier for North Korean officials to swallow—the Japanese abduction issue and UN supervision of humanitarian supplies on North Korean soil could be two agenda items. This won’t be good enough for organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, but it would at least open North Korea up to some degree of outside monitoring.

Currently, all of this seems fanciful. Pyongyang continues to fire ballistic missiles into the East Sea about as often as it threatens Washington and Seoul with nuclear holocaust. The assassination of Kim Jong-nam in a crowded airport in Kuala Lumpur via one of the most toxic chemical weapons on the planet has limited any space for diplomacy that may have been available before his death. Following the attack, Malaysian police discovered that VX was used to kill Kim Jong-nam and the State Department scuttled a conference between former U.S. officials and current North Korean officials.

Fortunately, the Trump administration’s policy review on North Korea suggests that diplomacy will be one recommendation to consider. President Trump needs to take that recommendation with the seriousness it deserves. If he truly believes he’s a negotiator of unprecedented talent, striking an agreement with Kim would go a long way in convincing people that he has really mastered the art of diplomacy.

Daniel DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities.

Image: Pyongyang; sunset over the Taedong River. Flickr/Creative Commons/Uri Tours