As negotiations over a summit meeting with the ruler of North Korea accelerate, President Donald Trump on Sunday disputed any suggestion that he had made too many concessions at the outset of an unpredictable and potentially volatile diplomatic exercise.
From his Florida estate, Trump took to Twitter to criticize Chuck Todd, host of Meet the Press, who had questioned on his program whether the president had gotten anything in return for the “huge gift” he had given the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, by agreeing to meet with him.
On the show, Marc Short, the White House legislative affairs director, had an answer teed up – that the North Koreans had given the United States “an agreement to stop testing” nuclear weapons.
But from his Twitter account, the president chose to answer Todd directly.
“Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd of Fake News NBC just stated that we have given up so much in our negotiations with North Korea, and they have given up nothing,” Trump wrote. “Wow, we haven’t given up anything & they have agreed to denuclearization (so great for World), site closure, & no more testing!”
North Korea has not in fact agreed to denuclearization. It has told the South Koreans that it is willing to discuss the issue, but Kim has made no such statement to his own people, as he did with his declaration that his country did not need to conduct further nuclear testing.
Experts inside and outside the U.S. government believe that Kim’s ultimate goal is to have his country recognized as a nuclear power even as he offers enough concessions – some potentially largely symbolic – to press the United States into easing crippling economic sanctions.
Analysts who study North Korea’s diplomatic patterns say there is cause for concern over Kim’s overtures, given his murky motives and his apparent effort to use the concessions to try to achieve the upper hand in the negotiation process.
North Korea has a long history of not abiding by promises to curtail its nuclear program, and Todd on his program reflected skepticism among former and some current White House officials that Kim will actually follow through on any vow to dismantle the North’s primary nuclear test site or stop nuclear weapons testing.
Some officials worry that Trump may be so eager to reach a historic deal that he will be lured into an agreement that falls short of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula that global powers have demanded.
Short said the administration had “cautious optimism” about the North Korea talks, which are expected in the next month or two. But he said the president would not relent on his “maximum pressure” campaign against the North until it denuclearized.
Asked what “denuclearization” meant to the two sides, Short said that they would have to hash it out, but that the U.S. view was that it would mean “full denuclearization.”
Trump, perhaps sensitive to any suggestion that he could be duped by a wily North Korean leader, sought to project an air of only-time-will-tell caution.
“We are a long way from conclusion on North Korea, maybe things will work out, and maybe they won’t,” Trump wrote.
Later in the day, the president had a word for those who had publicly counselled him to proceed warily.
“Funny how all of the Pundits that couldn’t come close to making a deal on North Korea are now all over the place telling me how to make a deal!” he tweeted.