fb-pixelThe administration says North Korea is giving up its nukes as a result of Trump’s dealmaking. It’s not. - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

The administration says North Korea is giving up its nukes as a result of Trump’s dealmaking. It’s not.

President Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un at last month’s summit.Doug Mills/New York Times/File

“I FINISHED the North Korea-US summit meeting successfully, so we’d like your country to make efforts to get the sanctions lifted as soon as possible,” Kim Jong Un told Chinese President Xi Jinping at a summit in Beijing on June 19-20.

“I’ll make my utmost efforts,” Xi told him, according to the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun.

A week later, Russia and China began circulating a draft press statement calling on the United Nations Security Council to relax sanctions placed on the newest member of the nuclear club. While the Chinese haven’t officially removed sanctions, experts say that there’s evidence they’ve relaxed their enforcement.


That’s what the end of Donald Trump’s vaunted “maximum pressure” sanctions regime looks like. North Korea is achieving its goals — while the president is attempting to fool the American people into believing he got something meaningful in return, and hoping they fall for his flimflam.

Less than three weeks ago, at their summit in Singapore, Kim took home a US concession to stop its war games with South Korea, the prestige that comes with sharing the stage with the leader of the world’s most powerful nation, and now the total collapse of sanctions, or at least China’s participation in them.

The Trump administration, for its part, clings to the dangerous delusion that North Korea has agreed to give up its nuclear weapons in return. “A lot of work ahead on maintaining our ironclad alliance with [South Korea] and achieving the final, fully verified denuclearization of the #DPRK, as agreed to by Chairman Kim,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted on June 30.

On Sunday, National Security Advisor John Bolton, the hawk with the longest talons in the administration, claimed that the North Koreans could dismantle all their nuclear weapons, missiles, chemical, and biological weapons “in a year.”


“There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” Trump tweeted last month.

If nuclear diplomacy was a boxing match, the refs would have already stepped in to stop this, since one of the fighters is clearly too punch-drunk to continue. As on so many other occasions, the Trump administration’s strategy seems to be to just repeat untruths, often enough and with sufficient gusto, that Americans start to believe there must be something to them.

But as MIT’s North Korea expert Vipin Narang dutifully points out every time Team Trump tries to brag about this bunkum, the North Koreans consider “final, fully verified denuclearization” to be the denuclearization of North Korea and the United States. So, unless the Trump administration is going to scrap the US nuclear arsenal, then the whole exercise is a sham, and the purported concessions won by the dealmaker in chief don’t exist.

Back on the non-Wonderland side of the looking glass, both North Korea and the United States are increasing their nuclear arsenals.

NBC News reported this weekend that “US intelligence agencies believe that North Korea has increased its production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months — and that Kim Jong Un may try to hide those facilities as he seeks more concessions in nuclear talks with the Trump administration.”

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is expanding the capabilities of US nuclear weapons, asking Congress last month to approve the conversion of some high-yield W76-1 warheads to the smaller W76-2 version. Smaller nukes are more tempting to use in a crisis, critics rightly fear.


Mike Pompeo heads to North Korea later this week, his third trip to the Hermit Kingdom. Perhaps he’ll finally acknowledge that the Singapore agreement is about as valuable as a degree from Trump University. That’s when the hard work of peace can really begin.