North Korea Treated Trump Like A Chump, And He Fell For It

New reports indicate that the North Koreans never took any of the steps to reduce their research programs that President Trump claimed they did.

The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that, despite the claims of the Administration in the wake of three summit meetings and numerous side meetings between high-ranking officials, that North Korea never really halted its weapons development programs:

Just before North Korea launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile in 2017, scientists strapped their newest rocket engine to a test stand to see how it would perform. The liquid-fueled engine burned successfully for 200 seconds and generated enough thrust to propel a warhead halfway around the world.

Two years later, on Dec. 13, a new missile engine was lit up on the same test stand while scientists watched. This time the burn lasted 400 seconds — almost seven minutes — according to an official statement.

For analysts who closely track such tests, the results were both startling and mystifying. North Korea’s last ICBM was powerful enough to reach the U.S. East Coast. Was this a new booster for the same ICBM? Or something different? No one knew, but experts fear that the world could soon find out.

“Seven minutes,” said one U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss North Korea’s capabilities, “is a long time.”

The experiment at North Korea’s Sohae test stand — one of two at the complex in the past month — has fueled speculation about the nature of the “Christmas gift” that leader Kim Jong Un promised if nuclear talks with the Trump administration remained stalled. Satellite cameras in recent weeks have spotted preparatory work at several locations where North Korea assembled or tested missiles in the past.

President Trump was dismissive Tuesday about what that gift might be. “Maybe it’s a nice present,” he told reporters. “Maybe it’s a present where he sends me a beautiful vase as opposed to a missile test, right?”

But the recent surge in activity also appears to confirm something that U.S. intelligence agencies have long suspected: Despite a self-imposed moratorium on testing its most advanced missiles over the past two years, North Korea has never halted its efforts to build powerful new weapons. Indeed, Kim’s scientists appear to have used the lull to quietly improve and expand the country’s arsenal, U.S. and East Asian officials say.

U.S. analysts say the two tests at Sohae appear to reflect months of continued work on North Korea’s arsenal of potent liquid-fueled missiles, which already includes two ICBMs, the Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15, capable of striking the United States. But the country’s scientists have demonstrated progress on other kinds of missiles as well. In the months since the failed U.S.-North Korean summit in Vietnam, Pyongyang has tested five new short- and medium-range missiles, all of which use solid propellants. Solid-fueled missiles are more mobile and easier to hide compared with similar rockets that use liquid fuel.

One of the newly unveiled additions to North Korea’s arsenal, the KN-23, is a highly maneuverable short-range missile that flies at low altitudes and is difficult to intercept. Another, the medium-range Pukguksong-3, can be launched from submarines.

“No one thinks they developed all these systems in a few months,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a weapons expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, in California. Satellite photos and numerous tests — many of them publicly announced and photographed — have shown repeatedly that “North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities kept operating during the moratoria,” he said.

“They have built up capabilities over time,” Lewis said, “and they choose to reveal them when it’s politically desirable.”

A demonstration of any of these technologies would be intended in part to express frustration over the stalled nuclear talks and to prod the Trump administration into new concessions at the negotiating table. But implicit in any new missile launch would be a larger message directed at Americans themselves, experts said.

“It would be a way of highlighting our vulnerability — to show they have the range to reach us,” said Robert Litwak, director of international security studies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

All of this calls into question pretty much everything the Trump Administration has done with respect to North Korea since Donald Trump took office. After a first year in which the President and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un traded insults and the DPRK conducted nuclear and ballistic missile and threatened war, things seemed to cool down in 2018. For his part, Kim extended an olive branch to the south that resulted in a summit meeting between himself and South Korean President Moon Jae-In that significantly reduced tensions between the two nations. This led to tentative talks between the United States and the DPRK, and ultimately to three meetings between Trump and Kim that, obviously, have resulted in nothing.

Immediately after his first meeting with Kim Jong Un in Singapore, for example, President Trump claimed that there was no longer a nuclear threat from the DPRK because of what happened at the meeting. The evidence since that time, though, it has been clear both that Kim Jong Un did not agree to what Trump claimed and that the summit itself, as well as the two subsequent meetings between the men in Hanoi and at the Demilitarized Zone, were little more than photo opportunities.

The extent to which this statement from Trump was erroneous became apparent only months after that first summit. At that point, it was reported that North Korea was increasing production of the fuel needed to make additional nuclear weapons and that it was concealing the existence of ongoing nuclear weapons research at secret facilities well hidden from both surveillance and, most likely, the ability of the United States to take the sites out in a military strike. Additionally, it became apparent in the days after the summit that the much-publicized destruction of the DPRK’s primary nuclear weapons test site, a much-hyped pre-summit event that was witnessed by American and other international journalists, was much less than met the eye and that the site could easily be rebuilt if needed in the future. Weeks later, we learned that the DPRK had also begun work on the construction of new ballistic missiles at yet another secret site.. Additionally, analysts who have seen satellite images say that the DPRK has made a second large nuclear reactor operational. This type of reactor is capable of making plutonium which is, of course, one of the main fuels used in the production of nuclear weapons. This new reactor can reportedly make four times as much plutonium as North Korea’s current reactor, which has been the source for the plutonium needed for its nuclear arsenal to date. Finally, in the wake of the summit in Hanoi that again appears to have been more hype than hope, it was reported that Pyongyang was making major repairs to a previously abandoned ballistic missile test facility that could be signs that they are planning either a new round of tests or a satellite launch.

This report comes in the wake of earlier reports that the North Koreans had promised some sort of New Year’s/Christmas “gift” for the United States. This comes after several months during which the DPRK was conducting short-range missile tests which caused concern in both South Korea and Japan, but which the President dismissed as not a big concern despite the obvious threat they posed to those two American allies. There have also been reports that the North Koreans have been expanding a factory used to construct ballistic missiles and, as noted above, engaging in the testing of ballistic missile engines, the results of which have many observers concerned that the DPRK has made major advances in engine design that could be a major step forward in missile development.

All of this goes to show that the Administration’s entire policy, which I’ve previously described as brain-dead, is an abject failure. For the past two years, we’ve basically coddled the DRPK while they did absolutely nothing in return. The result has been that Kim Jong-Un’s stature on the world stage has been enhanced, a wedge has developed between the United States and its allies in South Korea and Japan, and the DPRK has essentially fooled the United States yet again.

Nice work there, Trump.

FILED UNDER: National Security, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. CSK says:

    But Trump assured us that we could “sleep well” because the nuclear threat from No. Korea had ended! He ended it himself!

  2. Slugger says:

    The video showing Trudeau mocking Trump shows what America’s friends think of Trump. Trudeau mocks, and Macron and Boris Johnson are laughing their a**es off. How respected is he in Moscow, Riyadh, and Beijing? If we put a lie detector on Mitch McConnell, do you think he respects him? He is a joke, and his supporters like that about him; it offends the libs.

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    If only North Korea was in the Middle East, had oil, and was unfriendly to Israel, this would have been handled an entirely different manner.

  4. Kathy says:

    The easiest things for the deplorables and enablers now, is to resort to what didn’t happen. They can claim that without Dennison’s “brilliant” foreign policy and photo-op summits, Kim would have nuked Seoul, Tokyo and LA five times over by now, all thanks to Obama.

    besides, do you know how much money was saved by eliminating the joint military exercises in the peninsula? That buys a lot of golfing trips.

  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    All of this goes to show that the Administration’s entire policy, which I’ve previously described as brain-dead, is an abject failure. For the past two years, we’ve basically coddled the DRPK while they did absolutely nothing in return. The result has been that Kim Jong-Un’s stature on the world stage has been enhanced, a wedge has developed between the United States and its allies in South Korea and Japan, and the DPRK has essentially fooled the United States yet again.

    Yep. Well-summarized.

    Under Trump our allies are weaker and our enemies stronger. Slavish obedience to Putin + corruption + utter incompetence = Trump ‘foreign policy.’ MAGA.

  6. steve says:

    You know Trump’s followers won’t believe a word of this. In their minds North Korea is doing whatever Trump wants.


  7. CSK says:

    @steve: They’re not even talking about it. Anything undeniable that makes Trump look like the witless buffoon he is gets ignored. In any case, Trump’s fans don’t care about his ceaseless policy failures. They care only that he “owns the libtards.”

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’m sure one of the trolls will be along to give us all our requisite downvotes, but I don’t expect to see them defend this astonishingly incompetent work by their neo-Christ. They never defend specifics.

  9. reid says:

    @Slugger: He checks the “not elite” box very nicely, at least when it comes to intelligence, decorum, etc.

  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: But rest assured; it would have been handled just as ineptly and ham-fistedly. Some features don’t change.

  11. Kurtz says:


    From what i have read, his public attitude is partially driven by Manhattan elites rejecting him. Then again, it may be chicken or egg.

  12. Paine says:

    Even casual Korea-watchers like myself saw this outcome as likely. Trump is more interested in making history (the first!) than he is in advancing America’s geo-political interests.

  13. Gustopher says:

    So, to put this all in perspective… like during every other administration previous, North Korea continued to advance its nuclear weapon and missile programs, roughly as if our policies had no affect.

    I’m not defending Trump — he has been particularly incompetent — but this is a tough nut to crack, and previous policies of isolation and sanctions were not working. A new approach was needed, but flattery and capitulation would not have been my choice — although I do favor engagement.

    Donald Trump has simply wasted time — rather precious time, as the problems get worse.

  14. Kurtz says:


    This is a really good point.

    Backing out of the Iran deal was a huge mistake with wide ranging effects in different regions. It is certainly affecting the situation with the DPRK. That was a massive own goal.

    But your point about the complexity of a coherent, effective policy toward N Korea is true. The problem is Trump made a probably ineffective policy worse by giving up leverage for nothing in return.

    Now any engagement policy is going to require more concessions than it would have.

  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    We had Kim in a box. He had nukes, but we had unity and mutual trust with the South Koreans. And we had demonstrated our resolve as well as training troops up by carrying out joint exercises.

    Now Kim is out of his box, and has nukes, and we have a stressed relationship with South Korea and a history of Trump backing down. We’re also in a new cold war with China which has no reason to wish to help.

    This is sort of the opposite of Nixon going to China. That move drove a wedge between China and the USSR and strengthened our position, even as we were busy losing Vietnam. Under Trump we are weaker, more alone, and an international laughingstock. Call it incompetence or treason, take your pick.

  16. Kurtz says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Yeah, it’s hard to say it’s treason when someone is so incompetent at his job. Compounding that issue is that he appears to have serious cognitive problems as well.

  17. CSK says:

    @Kurtz: Trump is a failed social climber. That’s it in a nutshell.

  18. Kurtz says:


    Yeah, that’s one reason why incels and rednecks identify with him so strongly.

  19. Kit says:

    Let’s not forget that South Korea is unhappy with Trump’s request for shake down money: a five-fold increase in the cost of hosting US troops. A failed engagement with an enemy is one thing, but combine that with sabotaging relations with a key ally, and one has to wonder what Trump is aiming for.

  20. CSK says:

    @Kurtz: They think he’s one of them. The irony is that no one has greater contempt for them than Trump.

    If Trump had demonstrated the remotest idea of how to behave semi-acceptably, had made donations to the charities favored by the upper crust, and married an impoverished blueblood, we’d have been spared all this.

  21. Gustopher says:


    But your point about the complexity of a coherent, effective policy toward N Korea is true. The problem is Trump made a probably ineffective policy worse by giving up leverage for nothing in return.

    Is leverage the military exercises, or is there more that you’re thinking of?

    There were the summits that conferred some legitimacy, but they were stained by being with Trump. 🙂

    A future president can restart the training exercises. One could look at it from another perspective that’s not as bad — Trump added a tool to the next president’s toolbox.

    Not his intent, surely.

  22. Kurtz says:


    I usually avoid the “if a dem did x…” analysis. But when Trump called Sessions “a dumb Southerner,” I thought about would have happened if Obama or even someone like Franken had said that.

    But that statement shows how much contempt he has for his supporters.

  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Oh yeah, Iraq was a completely avoidable disaster, not that that ever made any difference to the neocons.

  24. CSK says:

    @Kurtz: I know! The most bizarre part of that whole business was when the southern Trump fans who previously loved Sessions heard Trump say that bit about a “dumb southerner,” they went along with it and decided they hated Sessions.

    Trump has a hold on Cult45 like nothing I’ve ever seen.

  25. Kathy says:

    It looks worse when you add it all up:

    While it’s true no previous administration has manged to even slow down the Kims even a little, none have given them anything in return for not even slowing down. Dennison gave the latest Kim legitimacy and stature by holding the photo-op summits, especially by visiting the North’s side of the DMZ. He then reduced the readiness of US and South Korean armed forces by eliminating the military exercises, not to mention he damaged the alliance and relationship with South Korea.

    All, I say again, in return for nothing.

    The world’s greatest negotiator.

    He probably couldn’t talk a Jehovah’s Witness to come into his house.

    Then there’s the whole thing about picking a fight, poorly thought out and executed, with the only country that has any real influence on North Korea.

    Mind, fighting China is worth it, or could be. But not by alienating the rest of the world first, then relying on the best tactics of the 1930s (which didn’t work then either), and especially leaving int he lurch the nations on the TPP.

    Imagine if Kim had made a single real concession, like naming a building in North Korea “Trump Tower.” Dennison would probably have withdrawn all American troops from the Peninsula, Japan, and Guam.

  26. Larry says:

    If Iraq and Afghanistan had solid evidence of nukes, Bush would have never attacked them.

  27. Larry P says:

    Trump is a coward who has only sought to gain favor with Kim though a policy of appeasement which has not worked.

  28. de stijl says:

    R Presidents this century routinely do avoidable foreign policy choices because they want to rouse and solidify base support.

    W’s Iraq war was bought and paid for by Iran. The outcome favored Iranian interests and goals. There was no goal besides throwing an inferior military foe against the wall and punching it’s face off for the fun of it and daddy didn’t let us get our full wargasm on back in ’92.

    Certainly the Iraq War was the stupidest action we’ve done since the run up to the US Civil War. No purpose, no goal. Massively impacted Iranian interests. Cheney got played.

    Thankfully, so far, Trump hasn’t started a new war.

    W (aka Cheney) was a worse President judged on outcome, Trump is merely a disaster innefective buffoon President.

    Rs: do you now understand why we mistrust your judgement?

  29. de stijl says:

    The Art Of The Deal was written by a ghost writer way smarter than the purported author.

    Trump is a stunningly inept joke and it shames me we sorta elected him due to vagaries in the electoral college design.

  30. rachel says:


    While it’s true no previous administration has manged to even slow down the Kims even a little,

    I beg to differ. I posted this at another website some days ago, but I think it should be part of the discussion here too:

    W. screwed this pooch when he backed out of the deal Bill Clinton had made. I don’t know if he did it because (not understanding contract negotiations in the traditional Korean context* or the internal pressures of North Korean power politics) he thought he could get a better deal, or because of a knee-jerk opposition to everything the Democrat before him had done, but his handling of this was mistaken in every aspect.

    Just like with Afghanistan and Iraq, nobody had good choices left after W.’s blunders.

    *In the traditional (non-westernized) Korean point of view, a contract is the beginning of your relationship, not the end of it. First you think long and hard of making a contract, and then when it looks like the other party may be OK, you sign with the expectation that all points are open for re-negotiation at any time. You’re expected to push for new terms as needed, and both sides have to be ready for some give-and-take.

    However, if the other party just flat refused to engage in give-and-take and breaks off… Well, your relationship is over.

    Clinton had finally persuaded ol’ Dictator Kim to think about opening up, and then W. slammed the door.

  31. Andrew says:

    That’s love for you. The rose colored glasses, the horse blinders, the romance. The closeness and letters.
    Trump just can’t seem to find a good man. He seems attracted to all the bad boys.

  32. Kathy says:


    Maybe Clinton’s deal did slow them down, and maybe they would have stopped. I agree Bush the younger should have stuck with it, same as El Cheeto with the Iran deal.

    But after the Iraq invasion, it would have been hard for the Kims to resist developing their own deterrent. after Libya, it would be hard for them to give it up.

    And Trump is the last person who could deal with Kim. Maybe the dictator of the north doesn’t buy and sell and con people in real estate, but the deals he makes with his family and party heavies and army notables, have his life, and theirs, for stakes. He’s no amateur, and given he’s still alive and in charge, no poser either.

  33. Guarneri says:
  34. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: It’s never been reasonable to believe that North Korea was ever going to stop trying to secure nuclear technology. The history of Korea–writ large–is 4000 or so years of other nations trying to over run the peninsula. The immediate history of North Korea includes the issue of Kim Il-sung being told by Stalin that he would sign the cease fire agreement or be replaced by someone who would (with Kim not retiring to a dacha on the Crimean, but rather getting the 6 foot parcel that is all the land that anyone really needs, as well as the inheritance of the meek). This is not the sort of situation that causes people to approach global affairs from a “I have nothing to fear from my neighbors in the Community of States” perspective.

    Yes, the Kims are gangsters. Yes, they are also kleptocrats. Yes, they are paranoid. Sadly, the fact that you are a paranoid, kleptocratic, authoritarian, gangster doesn’t mean that no one is out to get you. In fact, it probably means exactly the opposite.

    That’s the starting point of this “contract.”

  35. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @rachel: A saying that I remember from my time in Korea:

    A contract is a rough approximation of the conditions under which business will be conducted.

  36. Jax says:

    @Guarneri: When you can’t personally slice and dice your testicles to feed to your master, you….say Rachel Maddow was right about something?


  37. Gustopher says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Agree on all, and I would add the two biggest foreign policy blunders of the US in the 21st century as part of the problem:

    1. Invading Iraq when they were offering to let UN inspectors in to look for WMDs. Disastrous to our national security.

    2. Libya. We had an agreement with Gadafi, and we didn’t live up to it. We have no credible carrots.

    (As a bonus, I will throw in Assad. We should have wiped him off the face of the earth for using chemical weapons. We have no credible stick)

    The result is that every country we don’t like has every incentive to get nuclear weapons as fast as possible. We will capriciously attack countries without a significant deterrent. Iran has every interest in being able to churn out a nuclear bomb in a few months time.

    It’s going to be hard to unscrew this mess.

    If we had a broad set of principles about when we would use force, and followed it, countries could anticipate us, and act accordingly. Saber rattling over Venezuela A few months back didn’t help.

  38. Kurtz says:


    You do know that George Will writes for WaPo right? Nevermind, you probably think he’s a liberal because he doesn’t have a shrine to Mussolini featuring candles e’re aflame.

    Question: what do you call a luthier who gets played like a fiddle by a vulgarian with a bad spray-tan and worse plugs?

    Because you take zerohedge seriously, I will give you a hint. The answer can be found in a mirror.

  39. Kurtz says:


    Maybe that is the best thing to call male Trump supporters:


  40. Jax says:

    @Kurtz: He did at least link this time. 😉 Every time I read Zero Hedge I wonder how their readers can’t figure out they’re being had.

  41. Ken_L says:

    Trump is more interested in symbolism than in substance. As far as he is concerned, the imagery of him (and Javanka and Tucker Carlson) actually crossing the border to meet Kim in North Korea was world-historic. Nixon is remembered for going to China, and Trump believes he should be celebrated for going to North Korea. Even if his visit accomplished nothing.

    I wonder if Republicans in Congress understand how much damage Trump has done to America’s relationships with South Korea, Japan and the Philippines. How he has wrecked 70 years of bipartisan policy to contain China. How his reactive, impetuous style has undone any semblance of coherent strategy and left every country in the Asia Pacific uncertain of what America will do next*. And if they do understand it, I wonder if they care.

    *Trump, needless to say, would take that as a measure of success. Never let “the other side” know what you’re thinking!

  42. Jax says:

    @Ken_L: I would posit that those said Republicans do, indeed, know exactly what he’s done, and they are so terrified of “the rabid base”/determined to hold on to power” that they do not care.

    If somebody were to nuke the United States on the Western Coast, that same “rabid base” would cheer it as “owning the libs”/”we’re tired of California, anyways”.

  43. rachel says:


    Trump, needless to say, would take that as a measure of success. Never let “the other side” know what you’re thinking!

    Too bad the “other side” knows he’s not capable of thinking, only reacting.

  44. Kathy says:


    I would posit that those said Republicans do, indeed, know exactly what he’s done, and they are so terrified of “the rabid base”/determined to hold on to power” that they do not care.

    There was a joke in MAD magazine years ago, to the effect that an NFL owner fired all the players and kept the head coach.

    I get the Republicans fear the deplorable Cheeto base. but if they have any self-respect and dignity left, they should fire the base and keep the party.

  45. Grumpy realist says:

    Drew is quoting from Zerohedge, that well-known disburser of Russian propaganda, and expects us to gullibly swallow his statements, right?

    What’s he next going to claim as evidence, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion?