The White House CIA director Mike Pompeo shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un The White House via Getty Images

North Korean Action for US Words?

How the summit between US President Donald Trump and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong-un, will play out is anyone's guess. But it is already clear that by promising to secure significant concessions from the North before the US will even consider concessions of its own, Trump has set himself a monumental challenge.

DENVER – Just days ago, the planned summit in Singapore between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un seemed to be hanging by a thread. Talks are still on track, but the North Koreans have expressed second thoughts, owing to statements from the Trump administration suggesting that the North would be expected to denuclearize in exchange for the mere promise of loosened sanctions.

The North Koreans are also concerned about comments made by Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, an old nemesis whom the North – never lost for insulting words – once called “human scum.” In recent weeks, Bolton has suggested that talks with North Korea could follow what he calls the “Libya model” – a facile shorthand for a country that simply surrenders its nuclear program for little in return.

Contrary to Bolton’s cartoonish retelling, former Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi actually negotiated quietly with the Europeans and the United States for years before surrendering his weapons in 2003, and he received security commitments and assistance in exchange. But the even larger problem with Bolton’s message was that, to the rest of the world, the “Libya model” could just as well refer to the 2011 NATO air campaign that allowed rebels to topple Qaddafi’s regime. The NATO intervention ended with Qaddafi’s corpse being dragged through the streets of Sirte as the world – and particularly the North Koreans – looked on.

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