Displaying real leadership

It may be time for North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to try Plan B. His initial strategy in dealing with President Donald Trump — trying to get something for nothing — flopped badly.

Trump and Kim held their second face-to-face meeting last week in Hanoi, Vietnam. But Trump departed earlier than scheduled, telling reporters Kim had simply asked too much of the United States and been willing to grant too little in return.

Negotiations between Trump and Kim have shown a different side of the president than most Americans see on a day-to-day basis. Essentially, Trump is demonstrating that he can be just as “presidential,” just as diplomatic, as his domestic critics have demanded. After a rocky start to their relationship, marked by the president labeling Kim “little rocket man,” Trump has adopted the mannerisms of the diplomatic community.

That may have given Kim the impression that he, as his father and grandfather did, could play American leaders for suckers.

Wrong. For decades, North Korean dictators have built up their country’s military capability steadily, pausing only occasionally when they sensed world opinion viewed their actions as threats to peace.

During such situations, the North Koreans have promised to dial back their aggressiveness, in exchange for economic concessions from the U.S. and other countries. Upon receiving them, Pyongyang proceeded as planned to make its arsenal more powerful. Now, the country has both nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

Trump has insisted on “denuclearization.” Kim has smiled and agreed to do that.

But this past week, Kim asked Trump to relax economic sanctions before seeking believable evidence the North is on a path to scrapping his nuclear arsenal.

Trump said no. On his way out of Hanoi, he refused to criticize Kim, however, leaving the door open to real progress — if the North Koreans honestly desire it.

Good. That is precisely the strategy American leaders should have adopted decades ago. It may or may not succeed now, but at least it forces Kim to recognize that, this time around, North Korea will not get something for nothing.


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