The Reality Of North Korea Isn’t Living Up To Trump’s Rhetoric

To the surprise of nobody other than, apparently, the President of the United States, the North Koreans are dragging their feet after getting what they wanted out of the Photo Op Summit in Singapore.

It’s been just about a month and a half since President Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore for a summit that at the time clearly seemed to be more of a photo opportunity than a sign that anything had been accomplished between the two leaders. Notwithstanding that, the President walked away from the meeting claiming that great progress has been made in the relationship between the United States and the DPRK. Reality, though, has proven to be quite different. Within two weeks after the Singapore Summit. for example, it was being 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, just prior to the summit it was reported that the much-publicized destruction of the DPRK’s primary nuclear weapons test site, an event it had invited American and other international journalists to witness, was much less than met the eye and that the site could easily be rebuilt if needed in the future.

Since that news, North Korea has mostly been flying under the radar of the American public and the news media, largely because there hasn’t been any progress to report about, and The Washington Post reports that this is causing no small degree of frustration inside the Trump Administration:

When he emerged from his summit with Kim Jong Un last month, President Trump tri­umphantly declared that North Korea no longer posed a nuclear threat and that one of the world’s most intractable geopolitical crises had been ”largely solved.”

But in the days and weeks since then, U.S. negotiators have faced stiff resistance from a North Korean team practiced in the art of delay and obfuscation.

Diplomats say the North Koreans have canceled follow-up meetings, demanded more money and failed to maintain basic communications, even as the once-isolated regime’s engagements with China and South Korea flourish.

Meanwhile, a missile-engine testing facility that Trump said would be destroyed remains intact, and U.S. intelligence officials say Pyongyang is working to conceal key aspects of its nuclear program.

The lack of immediate progress, though predicted by many analysts, has frustrated the president, who has fumed at his aides in private even as he publicly hails the success of the negotiations.

“Discussions are ongoing and they’re going very well,” Trump told reporters Tuesday.

The accounts of internal administration dynamics come from conversations with a half-dozen White House aides, State Department officials and diplomats, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive ­negotiations.

Officials say Trump has been captivated by the nuclear talks, asking staffers for daily updates on the status of the negotiations. His frustration with the lack of progress has been coupled with irritation about the media coverage of the joint statement he signed on June 12 in Singapore, a document that contains no timeline or specifics on denuclearization but has reduced tensions between the two countries.

“Trump has been hit with a strong dose of reality of North Korea’s negotiating style, which is always hard for Americans to ­understand,” said Duyeon Kim, a Korea expert at the Center for a New American Security.

Trump’s interest in the issue has put a particularly bright spotlight on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has tried to wring concessions from his counterpart, Kim Yong Chol, a former spy chief viewed by the Trump administration as uncompromising and unable to negotiate outside the most explicit directives from Kim Jong Un.

A low point from the perspective of U.S. officials came during Pompeo’s third visit to Pyongyang on July 6 when he pressed North Korean officials for details on their plans to return the remains of U.S. soldiers killed during the Korean War, as they had agreed to do in Singapore. The issue had been discussed in several meetings and was viewed by the United States as an easy way for North Korea to demonstrate its sincerity.

But when Pompeo arrived in Pyongyang, the North Koreans insisted they were still not ready to commit to specific plans, according to diplomats familiar with the discussions.

The delay angered U.S. officials, who were under pressure to ­deliver given Trump’s premature ­announcement on June 20 that North Korea had already “sent back” the remains of 200 soldiers.

The sentiment worsened when Kim Jong Un chose not to meet with Pompeo during his stay as had been expected. Pompeo later denied that a meeting was planned, a claim contradicted by diplomats who said the secretary initially intended to see the North Korean leader.

Unable to secure an agreement on remains during his trip, Pompeo scheduled a meeting between the North Koreans and their Pentagon counterparts to discuss the issue at the demilitarized zone on July 12. The North, however, kept U.S. defense officials waiting for three hours before calling to cancel, the diplomats said. The North Koreans then asked for a future meeting with a higher-ranking military ­official.

The President responded to this report on Twitter this morning that both denied it and served as a launching pad for yet another attack on the media:

Leaving aside Trump’s tweets, which are replete with lies and misrepresentations about Amazon and The Washington Post, it really should not come as a surprise that the North Koreans are dragging their feet on actually doing anything substantive to back up the rhetoric of Singapore. They got what they wanted out of that meeting, which specifically was the international recognition that comes with a one-on-one meeting with the President of the United States, and they’ve given up nothing in return. The promises they made in Singapore aren’t worth the paper they were printed on, especially because the United States and North Korea clearly have very different ideas of what “denuclearization” means and nothing that happened at the summit changed those differences. Additionally, everything that the DPRK supposedly agreed to are essentially the same as what they have agreed to a number of times in the past, such as in 1985, 1992, 1994, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2016. Each of those times, the promises proved to be empty, and the DPRK continued to advance its research programs with respect to both nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. There’s every reason to believe that their behavior will be the same this time around, and the events that have taken place since the June 12th meeting would seem to prove that hypothesis. If the President really is frustrated by the fact that the promises supposedly made to him in Singapore were any different than what we’d heard in the past then he’s even more naive than I suspected him of being.

In any case, as I’ve said before, the idea that the DPRK is ever going to completely give up its nuclear weapons program is incredibly naive and defies logic. The lessons of recent history, arising out of the different treatment of nations such as Iraq and Libya compared to, for example, Iran, Pakistan, and India, makes it clear that nations that voluntarily give up a deterrent force such as nuclear weapons are essentially signing their death warrants. No amount of “security guarantees” that the United States and South Korea might be willing to give to the Kim regime are going to match the guarantees that come with actually possessing a credible, albeit small, nuclear weapons arsenal. This latest news is seeming proof of that, as well as being proof of the fact that very little actually changed in Singapore. The fact that the President and his advisers are apparently surprised by this demonstrates just how naive they are, and does not bode well for our dealings with far more serious threats from nations such as Russia, China, and Iran, the last of which of course is the focus of the President’s latest Twitter rant.

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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. Michael Reynolds says:

    Diplomacy is work. Trump doesn’t do work.

  2. Mikey says:

    Reality, though, has proven to be quite different.

    Well, to be fair, that’s true of about 75% of everything Trump says.

    For example:

    In my opinion the Washington Post is nothing more than an expensive (the paper loses a fortune)

    The truth:

    WaPo hits 2nd year of profitability, plans expansion

    The Washington Post will celebrate its second consecutive year as a profitable company by adding to its business and technology teams in 2018, according to a memo to staff from Post Publisher Fred Ryan obtained by Axios.

    The team of nearly 800 journalists will be acquiring additional space in its headquarters building in downtown Washington in 2018.

  3. gVOR08 says:

    I am reminded of a line I saw years ago in a completely different context. The subject was survivalists. A lady had just been interviewed whose survival skill was rappelling. First, the trick is getting back up, second, she was in Cincinnati. The line was ‘These guys think they’re tough, but if we really get into a post apocalypse situation someone who really is tough is going to turn their lily white arses into preppy jerky.’ Seems to be happening to Trump.

  4. gVOR08 says:


    The Washington Post will celebrate its second consecutive year as a profitable company by adding to its business and technology teams in 2018, according to a memo to staff from Post Publisher Fred Ryan obtained by Axios.

    Sure, but they owe it all to Trump. Same with NYT.

  5. Moosebreath says:

    “To the surprise of nobody other than, apparently, the President of the United States”

    And Bunge. And TMo1, and the rest of the 54-41 and fight group.

  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    You brought up the Amazon Tweets so I want to focus in on them…
    Chilling does not begin to describe the effect this could have on business. Dennison doesn’t have to follow through on his threats (which would likely be illegal), the message to corporate America is clear; associate with negative criticism of this POTUS and he may very well try to cripple your business.
    I’m old enough to remember when Republicans were aghast that a private company like Solyndra, along with 40 other companies, could receive loan guarantees from the Government. They called it the Government picking winners and losers.
    Now we have the Government singling out one company for punishment (real or threatened) because the POTUS has this orange skin, yet we hear nothing but crickets from Capital Hill.
    I’m not a big fan of Amazon and what they have done to local retail…but these attacks from the fat tub of orange goo residing in the White House are scary. Who is next?

  7. Kathy says:

    Diplomats say the North Koreans have canceled follow-up meetings, demanded more money and failed to maintain basic communications, even as the once-isolated regime’s engagements with China and South Korea flourish.

    Because Kim is playing Trump, not China or South Korea.

    BTW, do his Tweets mean the Orange Twit is happy and satisfied with the lack of progress, and with his officials being rudely treated and stood up?

  8. CSK says:


    Trump can’t publicly acknowledge the lack of progress, because doing so would require him to admit that the Singapore summit was a farce, and he was a loser.

  9. Gustopher says:

    The Mandarin Pee Enthusiast says:

    The Amazon Washington Post has gone crazy against me ever since they lost the Internet Tax Case in the U.S. Supreme Court two months ago. Next up is the U.S. Post Office which they use, at a fraction of real cost, as their “delivery boy” for a BIG percentage of their packages….

    The truth is that Amazon charges sales tax in almost every state because they have build so many fulfillment centers, development centers, etc. They profited immensely at the beginning due to a “sales tax discount”, but now that they don’t have that, they have actually been in favor of ending it, so no one else can replicate their success.

    And, of course, the Post Office turns a profit on delivering Amazon packages.

    Is there anything the Bloated Tumeric Tumor can get right, ever? It would be nice if all his tweets had a warning label, like cigarettes.

  10. Scott says:

    Since the US policy was not to give Kim the status of a world leader and meet with him unless certain actions were taken, the reality is that Kim forced Trump to the bargaining table. And Trump gave him everything he wanted. The Art of the Deal indeed.

  11. Hal_10000 says:

    Trump doesn’t care what actually happens with North Korea. He got his photo op. He’s done. The Norks could drop a nuclear weapon on Guam tomorrow and he would still proclaim that he’d brought peace to the region.

  12. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    There’s a saying in Korea; I heard it many times.

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

    I would have thought, considering his vast experience at operating under that very model both in the US and internationally, that this reality about negotiations would not have been a source of frustration for him. Apparently, I would have been wrong.

    But who can tell, maybe he has absolutely no experience at negotiating in situations where both sides use that model. Who knew?

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: Who is next? Maybe me. Maybe thee.

  14. Tyrell says:

    One opinion is that while any nuclear dismantle is distant, this could help open up more communication and pull North Korea away from China. See Ted Gover, “The Insider”.
    Another, lengthy work is “The Forgotten War: America In Korea” (Clay Blair). This details the mistakes, fumbles, misjudgments that created a disaster. This should be required reading for the nation’s leaders and military officers.
    Most people I talk to now have forgotten or do not even know about the Korean “Conflict”. Of course, few could give even basic information about the War of 1812.
    What are they teaching in school these days?

  15. MBunge says: