78°F
weather icon Clear

White House looks to tamp down expectations for North Korea summit

Updated February 21, 2019 - 6:44 pm

WASHINGTON — The White House tried Thursday to tamp down expectations ahead of the second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next week in Hanoi, Vietnam.

“I don’t know if North Korea has made the choice yet to denuclearize, but the reason we’re engaged in this is because we believe there’s a possibility that North Korea can make the choice to fully denuclearize,” a senior administration official told reporters during a conference call Thursday morning.

Ahead of the summit on Wednesday and Thursday, the conservative Heritage Foundation released a backgrounder that cited three “major mistakes” by the Trump administration around the first summit, held last June in Singapore: accepting a vague summit statement on denuclearization; unilaterally canceling U.S.-South Korean military exercises without reciprocal North Korean action; and “exuberantly praising” Kim despite his many human rights violations.

Senior research fellow on Asian studies Bruce Klingner called Trump’s decision to cancel allied military exercises in South Korea was “the gift that keeps on giving for North Korea.” Klingner also argued that the Kim regime wants to deal directly with Trump, whom it believes is more likely to deliver unilateral concessions.

Looking ahead, Klingner urged Trump to be prepared to walk away and sign only an end-of-summit agreement that includes a North Korean commitment to denuclearization and requires Pyongyang to allow international inspections that can verify compliance.

During Thursday’s conference call, the senior administration official told reporters that the two-day Hanoi summit will be similar in format to the one-day meeting at Singapore’s Sentosa island.

That June summit began with an extended grip-and-grin for the international press, after which Trump and Kim met with each other and only translators for nearly an hour. That tete-a-tete was followed by an expanded bilateral meeting that included Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton.

Also in the expanded meeting was Kim’s most trusted aide, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) lead negotiator Kim Yong Chol, a former spy chief.

Kim Yong Chol met with Trump and Pompeo in the White House in January, before the White House announced a second summit would occur in February.

After the June summit, Trump said that he and Kim Jong Un had developed a “special bond.” Kim said “the world will see major change.”

The Trump White House has a list of improvements that followed the first meeting between a U.S. and North Korean leader. Vice President Mike Pence rattled off the list in Munich over the weekend: “No more nuclear tests. No more missiles being fired. Our hostages are home.” And North Korea has returned the remains of 55 deceased U.S. service members.

Many in the foreign policy world, however, were underwhelmed with the results.

“There has to be a much more careful and realistic portrayal of where we’re at and what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” Jenny Town, a Korean specialist at the Stimson Center, told the Review-Journal.

And Town thinks the Singapore summit was a plus for the United States. “As much as people criticize the last year and how little progress there has been,” Town said, “you know, this is a negotiation. The Singapore summit set a very broad agenda.”

Foreign policy watchers paid keen attention to remarks delivered Jan. 31 by special envoy Stephen Biegun at Stanford University in search of signals for what could happen in Hanoi.

Biegun admitted that there still was no agreement between the DPRK and Washington on the definition of denuclearizing North Korea. “Our view is that it entails the elimination of the totality of the weapons of mass destruction programs in North Korea,” he added.

But the Singapore statement calls for denuclearization of the Korean peninsula — a nod to the DPRK’s push to get U.S. troops out of South Korea.

Asked if the Trump administration would consider pulling U.S. troops out of South Korea, Biegun told the Stanford crowd, “So we are not involved in any diplomatic discussion, full stop, that would suggest this trade-off. It has never been discussed.”

Foreign policy hawks expect the Trump administration to deliver specifics so the international community can measure North Korean compliance. Town sees indications that the next deal will deliver international inspections.

Another challenge will be how the administration sells any agreement reached with the DPRK. Town sees an administration that may have done a better job reaching out to Pyongyang than to Capitol Hill.

Even a great package “may not be enough to win over the skeptics” if the White House can’t bring Congress on board, Town said.

Klingner was especially critical of Trump’s buddy rhetoric with an international human rights pariah.

“You can be positively positive in your diplomacy and in praising progress when it’s achieved, but you don’t necessarily have to extol the virtues of your counterpart,” said Klingner.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Clark County 2019 Election Results - Video
The 2019 Elections wrap up in Clark County including an upset in the Boulder City Mayor race.
Olivia Diaz talks about her win in Ward 3 - VIDEO
Las Vegas City Councilwoman-elect Olivia Diaz talks about her election win in Ward 3 and what lies ahead for her.
Greene discusses Read by 3 and Opportunity Scholarships - VIDEO
The Nevada Legislative Session is over and the results are mixed for Nevada students, according to Tom Greene, Senior regional legislative director, Excel in Ed in Action.
Bernie Sanders visits Las Vegas
Sen. Bernie Sanders made a stop at Roy W. Martin middle school on Thursday, during his campaign trail.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris castigated President Donald Trump’s merit-based immigration plan, saying it was “short-sighted” and overlooked the cultural significance of family, during a campaign stop in Las Vegas. “We cannot allow people to start parsing and pointing fingers and creating hierarchies among immigrants,” Harris told Asian Pacific Islander leaders at a Chinatown restaurant, one of two appearances she made Thursday.
The Right Take New Education Funding Plan - VIDEO
On Monday, Senate Education Committee chair Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, released a new education funding formula. For years, many Democrat politicians have criticized the current education funding formula, called the Nevada Plan. They claim it’s old and outdated. Their biggest beef is that it doesn’t allocate more money for students who are English Language Learners or live in poverty. The theory is that it’s harder to educate those students and so they need additional services, which costs additional money.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Nevada
California Senator Kamala Harris meets with One APIA Nevada, a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies empowering Asian Pacific Islander Nevadans. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ben Carson talks housing (Audio only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Ben Carson visits the RJ (Full Audio Only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Nevada
After campaigning at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 16 in Henderson, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke with the Review-Journal.
Student serenades Mayor Carolyn Goodman at swearing in
Students from the school she founded, The Meadows School, serenaded Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman during a swearing in ceremony for her third and final term. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Al Gore Speaks At UNLV About Climate Change - Video
Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore talks to an audience at UNLV about the effects of Climate change and how to switch to renewable sources of energy.
Forum on Wages and Working People Highlights - VIDEO
Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, and John Hickenlooper speak in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nevada Politics Today Valerie Weber - VIDEO
Valerie Weber sits down with Victor Joecks to discuss her policies and why she is running for Ward 2 of the Las Vegas City Council.
Cory Booker speaks at UNLV
US Senator Cory Booker speaks at UNLV during a Young Democrats meet and greet on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
May-Brown describes why some with disabilities need the subminimum wage - VIDEO
Eliminating the subminimum wage will end training and work opportunities for some members of the disabled community. Instead of doing something productive, they would be relegated to adult day care. That’s according to Tracy May-Brown, Opportunity Village’s director of advocacy, board and government relations.
Commission’s decision will delay Red Rock Canyon development
The Clark County Commission Wednesday rejected a developer’s request to approve a preliminary plan for 3,000 homes overlooking Red Rock Canyon before a federal agency grants permission for a roadway leading to the site.
Clark County commissioner calls on landlords to bring properties up to code
Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom has called on landlords in older parts of the valley to bring their properties up to code and keep them well-maintained or face the prospect of inspections, fines and citations. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Harry Reid speaks out against anti-Semitism
Unnerved by the rise in anti-Semitic hate speech and the general pervasiveness of bigotry, including in Nevada, former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid organized an educational forum at UNLV on Thursday as part of his call to unite people against it. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
President Trump speaks to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas
President Donald Trump spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas and updated on Israeli relations. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump says border wall will have 'hundreds of miles' built by end of next year
President Donald Trump spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas and discussed the progress of the border wall and the current relations there. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Protesters disrupt Trump's speech
Just as President Donald Trump started to make his opening remarks during his appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting, protesters disrupted his speech. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Roerink On The Problems With Taking Water From Eastern Nevada - Video
The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to take billions of gallons of water that doesn’t exist from Eastern Nevada via a pipeline that would cost ratepayers $15 billion. Doing so would devastate the wildlife and people who live there. That’s according to Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, which opposes the pipeline.
Las Vegas Election Night Wrap-Up
The Review-Journal's Politics and Government Editor, Steve Sebelius, wraps up election night. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Olivia Diaz Speaks To Ward 3 Supporters After Primary Election - Video
Olivia Diaz speaks to her supporters at a election party after results started coming in for the Ward 3 primaries.
Oscar Goodman Speaks On Behalf Of Mayor At Primary Win (edited)
Oscar Goodman spoke Tuesday night on behalf of his wife, Carolyn, who won the mayoral primary election. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Oscar Goodman Speaks On Behalf Of Mayor At Primary Win (Full)
Oscar Goodman spoke Tuesday night on behalf of his wife Carolyn, who won the mayoral primary election. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Gun Debate Shows Limits Of Government - Video
On Monday, the Assembly and Senate Judiciary Committees held a joint hearing on Assembly Bill 291. It would ban bump stocks and allow local governments to pass additional restrictions on firearms.
Lucy Flores speaks out about Biden incident
Former Nevada assemblywoman, Lucy Flores, expresses her feelings about an incident with former Vice President Joe Biden in 2014. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Harry Reid takes the stand in injury lawsuit
Former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid took the stand on Thursday in the product liability lawsuit brought against the makers of a resistance exercise band that Reid blames for blinding him in one eye.
Jurors hear opening statements in Reid personal injury trial
Opening statements were made on Tuesday in the product liability lawsuit brought by Harry Reid against against the makers of a resistance exercise band that Reid blames for blinding him in one eye.
Mayor Goodman delivers Meals on Wheels
Mayor Carolyn Goodman delivers Meals on Wheels to seniors on March 26, 2019.
Las Vegas City Council Ward 1 race
Candidates for Las Vegas City Council Ward 1. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Beto O’Rourke campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke addresses attendees during a campaign stop at Arandas Taqueria in Las Vegas on Sunday, March 24, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Beto O'Rourke House Party in Las Vegas
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke delivered a message of unity inside a Las Vegas living room Saturday night, outlining a mission to bridge the divide in a polarized America and rally behind “big defining ambitions that we have in common.” (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand talks at Atomic Liquors
Democrat presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand talks to her supporters at Atomic Liquors.
Presidential candidate Gillibrand meets with UNLV Immigration Clinic student attorneys
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., meets with UNLV Immigration Clinic student attorneys at her first stop in Nevada as a candidate Thursday, March 21, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto promotes the Rebuild America’s Schools Act
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., co-sponsor of the Rebuild America’s Schools Act, speaks at Hoggard Elementary School in Las Vegas to promote the bill that would provide $100 billion for infrastructure improvements at schools across the country. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
THE LATEST
Manafort to remain in federal custody, won’t go to Rikers

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been transferred to a correctional facility in New York but will remain in federal custody while he faces state fraud charges, a Justice Department official said Tuesday.

Trump threatens to deport millions beginning next week

President Donald Trump is threatening to remove millions of people living in the country illegally on the eve of formally announcing his re-election bid.