Americas: United States
Asia: North Korea and Asia: Vietnam
Special Entry: Democrats accuse Trump of withholding information ahead of summit with North Korea; Trump insiders fear Trump will be outmaneuvered by Kim Jong-un
United States President Donald Trump was set to convene his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi from Feb. 27, 2019, to Feb. 28, 2019. The agenda was to be understood as an exercise in persuasion as the United States intended to get North Korea to relinquish its nuclear weapons program.
The choice of communist Vietnam as a venue was meanwhile being billed as symbolic with Vietnam being presented as a model of economic and political reform for North Korea to emulate. This choice highlighted an ironic contrast between Trump's penchant for berating leading Democrats for advocating "socialist" policies on climate change, while touting the possibility of economic progress for the totalitarian North Korean regime.
Ahead of the summit, the chairpersons for three House committees in the United States Congress were accusing President Trump of withholding critical information from lawmakers. At issue for the Reps. Eliot Engel, Adam Schiff, and Adam Smith -- the leaders of the Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Armed Services committees -- was the fact that the Trump administration had failed to brief Congress on denuclearization negotiations with North Korea.
In a joint letter dispatched to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the three chairpersons declared: There is no legitimate reason for having failed to provide regular, senior-level briefings to the relevant committees of jurisdiction on a matter of such significance to our national security.” As such, they demanded that Pompeo brief all members of the House on the matter within a week after the conclusion of the summit in Vietnam.
The letter By Engels, Schiff, and Smith included support for the goal of “complete and fully verified dismantlement” of North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Drawing upon testimony from Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, they also made clear their doubts that North Korean leader, Kim Jong un, was actually committed to such an objective.
It should be noted that the three heads of key House committees additionally accused the Trump administration of failing to provide Congress appropriate access to intelligence on North Korea’s nuclear and conventional weapons programs. They also chastized the Trump administration of failing to furnish a report on North Korea's nuclear program -- something mandated by defense policy legislation.
On Feb. 22, 2019, the publication Politico reported that President Trump's inner circle was worried that the president would be "outfoxed" by North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, during talks at the impending summit in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi.
According to Politico, Trump was eagerly anticipating his meeting with Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, repeatedly making note of his "great relationship" with the North Korean dictator. The United States president appeared to be convinced that North Korea was ready and willing to go down the path of denuclearization. That view, however, was at odds with the findings of the United States intelligence community, most nuclear development experts, and foreign policy professionals.
From within the White House, presidential advisers were afraid that the summit would not produce meaningful results -- the optics of which would not be beneficial to the president or the administration. Outside the White House, nuclear development experts and foreign policy professionals were worried that the president would be unprepared for the summit. According to Politico, in his eagerness to forge a policy victory, Trump could make significant concessions "in exchange for empty promises of denuclearization."
Among those skeptical that the Hanoi summit would produce anything meanigful was Trump's own top diplomat, Secertary of State Mike Pompeo. As stated by Ian Bremmer, founder and president of the Eurasia Group, in the Politico piece: “There is not optimism in the administration. Pompeo is deeply skeptical that we are going to get anything of substance on denuclearization from Kim Jong Un, and Pompeo believes the North Koreans are just playing for time.”
Trump's hardline National Security Adviser John Bolton was already on the record with his skepticism regarding denuclearization negotiations with the North Koreans. At the annual CEO conference of the Wall Street Journal in late 2018, Bolton said that North Korea had not honored the joint declaration that emerged from the 2018 Singapore summit to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” He said, “They have not lived up to the commitments so far.”
Indeed, since the time of the Singapore summit, satellite imagery has revealed North Korea's continued efforts to build out clandestine missile bases and nuclear sites. That imagery was part of a report published by the Beyond Parallel program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. According to Politico, Director Victor Cha, a former National Security Council official, said the report contained many revealing images for the purpose of "catching the attention of a president who doesn’t read, but responds to imagery."
But President Trump was not influenced in the way Cha had hoped. Via his social media outlet, Twitter, Trump blasted a story in the New York Times that covered the report by Beyond Parallel, He tweeted, “The story in the New York Times concerning North Korea developing missile bases is inaccurate. We fully know about the sites being discussed, nothing new - and nothing happening out of the normal. Just more Fake News. I will be the first to let you know if things go bad!”
Denise Youngblood Coleman, PhD.
President and Editor in Chief
-- Feb. 23, 2019