Posted by Curt on 28 February, 2019 at 10:58 am. 12 comments already!


One of Donald Trump’s most prominent critics leading up to his talks with Kim Jong-un has hailed his decision to walk out on the North Korean dictator. Susan Rice, a former national-security adviser and ambassador to the UN for Barack Obama, had warned that Trump would “cave” to Kim in a New York Times op-ed earlier this week. This morning, however, Rice offered Trump praise for making the right call in the end:

Rice, who also served as ambassador to the United Nations under President Barack Obama, offered rare praise for Trump in an interview with NPR in the wake of his decision to cut short a two-day summit with Kim once it became clear that no deal to fully denuclearize North Korea could be reached. …

“For the United States to have agreed to lift all sanctions in the absence of real and complete denuclearization would have been a tremendous mistake,” she said.

Rice added the optimal deal would have been to have incremental commitments towards shuttering North Korea’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting targeted sanctions. But such as a deal “apparently was not achievable” with Kim insistent on lifting all sanctions.

Rice’s comments about North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles are well taken, even if both could easily be applied to the Iran deal signed by the president she served. It’s still good to learn the hard way as long as one learns. Otherwise, give Rice legit kudos here for assessing the outcome by the same standard she laid out earlier in the week. It would have been very easy to shift goalposts here and crow over Trump’s lack of a deal while ignoring that it was Trump who scotched it, and for good reasons.

How did our allies closest to the situation assess the outcome? Did the lack of an agreement from the Hanoi summit make it a failure with Japan and South Korea? Not at all, apparently. NBC News reports that both Japan and South Korea are breathing “a collective sigh of relief,” with specific praise for Trump in resetting the dynamic with Kim:

Some of the countries living in fear of Kim Jong Un’s arsenal appeared to heave a collective sigh of relief Thursday even though President Donald Trump abruptly left the nuclear summit with North Korea without an agreement. …

Trump showing strength by walking away from the negotiating table was preferable to him meeting Kim’s demands, according to Tomohiko Taniguchi, one of Japanese President Shinzo Abe’s senior policy advisers.

While Tokyo has long wanted a deal, ensuring it’s the right deal is crucial, Taniguchi said.

“This ‘friendly walk-away’ was much better than giving a wrong signal to Kim Jong Un,” he added. “Mr. Trump succeeded in setting in place the kind of dynamics between the two — one begging and the other refusing.”

That’s a point I also make in my column this morning at The Week. Kim almost certainly knew how badly Trump could use a big foreign-policy success and how tempting it would be to go the Iran-deal route to get it. By walking away, Trump demonstrated to Kim that he’ll need to get serious to bring an end to sanctions:

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