Next Time, Trump Should Let His Negotiators Negotiate

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- “Know when to walk away from the table,” is one of President Donald Trump’s favorite sayings. For once, he did walk away, and he was right to. His summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un didn’t yield a good, workable agreement. Trump should reflect on what went wrong.

According to the U.S., North Korea demanded that all international sanctions be lifted in exchange for a pledge to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear installation and some other known sites. That would’ve left the North’s nuclear and ballistic-missile arsenals, and suspected but undisclosed nuclear-enrichment facilities, intact.  

This, more or less, has been Kim’s offer throughout. He perhaps calculated that Trump, beset by political troubles at home, would take this bad deal and call it a success. It’s good that Kim was wrong about that. And the failed summit does have one other virtue: The two sides have papered over their differences — from the sequencing of concessions to the extent of denuclearization — for too long. Better that these be exposed now before the U.S. gives up more of its leverage or North Korean capabilities grow bigger and more sophisticated.

What’s needed next, though, is the kind of diplomatic spadework that Trump has till now disregarded. Lower-level talks are meant to continue. The U.S. president needs to make clear that he backs his negotiators fully and that Kim shouldn’t hope to appeal over their heads directly to the White House. No new summit should be scheduled until specific draft agreements are reached. And both sides should lower their sights and focus on small, feasible steps to build trust and move things forward again.

Editorials are written by the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.

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