Sunday, Jul 22, 2018
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Two steps back on North Korea

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, walking with U.S. President Donald Trump in the garden during their summit in Singapore on June 12.

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President Donald Trump took the great leap forward with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. They had a big, flashy, historic summit meeting in Singapore.

It may have been a game changer. We don’t know yet.

Now comes the long, patient trail of diplomacy.

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The recent meeting in Pyongyang between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Mr. Kim’s negotiators showed, as if the world needed further evidence, that it will not be easy. It ended with North Korea accusing Mr. Pompeo of having a “gangster-like mindset” and with North Korea reverting to type — bluffing, bullying, and distracting.

So far, the U.S. has gained nothing concrete in its negotiations with Mr. Kim.

Mr. Kim has not gotten much either.

He got U.S. military exercises suspended for one season. They can be resumed with minor loss of operational readiness. But Mr. Kim also got a meeting on the world stage with Mr. Trump. That might play well as propaganda for the fact-starved people who cower under his thumb, but it doesn’t put a single additional dollar in the North Korean economy.

Mr. Pompeo left North Korea last week claiming to have achieved progress, while North Korea said the U.S. diplomatic posture was “regrettable.”

So what’s next?

The U.S. position is simple: If Mr. Kim wants his country to be integrated with the world and its markets, he needs the United States to drop its sanctions, and that’s not going to happen until North Korea abolishes its nuclear program.

There are three keys to getting there: pressure on the North Koreans from China. And there has to be a reason for China to exert this pressure. Mr. Kim’s desire for respect and membership in the family of nations. And patient diplomacy by Mr. Pompeo and his team.

There is no question that U.S.-North Korean relations have taken two small steps back after their one giant leap. But those relations are still in far better shape than they were a year ago.

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