MARGARET BRENNAN: Now, the president accepted this invitation fairly quickly on the promise, as you gestured to, of a pause in missile and nuclear tests. Why not ask for more? Why not ask for an actual freeze of their program, so they dont use diplomacy as a cover to continue development?
POMPEO: Well, thats — we have gotten more than any previous administration, an agreement to not continue testing nuclear weapons and their missile program, the things that would put them capable of getting across the threshold. That is critical.
He has allowed to continue — us to continue our exercises on the peninsula, something that has been fought over for decades. And at the same time, he has agreed to have a conversation about denuclearization.
In the end, Margaret, what will turn out is not about words and what someone says. This administration has in its eyes wide open. And the whole time this conversation takes place, the pressure will continue to mount on North Korea. There is no relief in sight until the president gets the objective that he has set forth consistently during his entire time in office.
BRENNAN: So, you are saying more sanctions, but, in the meantime, North Korea can continue its enrichment, its computer modeling, things that would allow it to enrich and develop its nuclear program.
POMPEO: Well, I dont want to comment on that specifically, but be sure …
To be sure. Pompeo, in possession of ample intelligence material, knows what a diplomatic coup it would be for Kim, the perpetrator of human rights atrocities — who leads the regime that seemingly killed Otto Warmbier and that still holds three Americans — to get on the world stage with President Trump. Getting that recognition without giving up his nuclear arsenal, something he has no intention of doing, would be a strategic victory for Kim.
Pompeo might be able to work on some damage control internally. This is a level of discussion, this president is going to drive this effort, this negotiation, but it will take a team to build out the picture, so that we put the president in the best position so that he can achieve that outcome, he said. That leaves open the possibility for a whole lot of preliminary discussion before, if ever, Trump meets with Kim. Alas, Pompeo has no stomach to tell the president directly that this is an awful idea, nor would he be effective in mitigating the situation if he did. Trump thinks hes a genius negotiator and is blissfully unaware he already gave up a critical bargaining chip.
As former deputy director of the CIA Michael Morell pointed out, I think that North Korea in general and Kim Jong Un in particular put a very high value on being seen as meeting with the president of the United States. It gives him legitimacy both at home and abroad. Its very important to him. He added, He will get that if this happens. He has only given a short-term freeze in missile and nuclear tests, right? I think we could have gotten more for what he really wanted here. Trump turns out to be a rotten negotiator — before even getting in the room with Kim.
Other Republicans were obviously nervous. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said that what we have to hear more of is how we are going to get to those concrete, verifiable steps toward denuclearization before this meeting occurs. … I would like to see some concrete steps, more than just a cessation of testing, because you can still do computer modeling. Unfortunately, Trump seems already to have given that away, demonstrating that he has the ability to make the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran look like an unconditional Iranian surrender by comparison. Hes already chasing a deal like a schoolboy in desperate need of attention from his peers.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) on Meet the Press likewise admonished Trump. The important thing is the diplomatic work that has to go in before such a meeting. A meeting like that would be kind of an afterthought after things are negotiated. Here it looks as if, you know, thats kind of the opening gambit. … Ill tell you, you dont want to sit down with the leader of North Korea and give him that kind of victory unless you put the groundwork in, unless your diplomats have negotiated things. You know, what does this do to our alliances? What does it do to regular nonproliferation? What do we — you know, there are a lot of things. I mean, dozens and dozens of meetings, high-level meetings, that need to happen before this.
Unfortunately, Trump fan boys such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who love to brandish their hawkish credentials when a Democrat is in the White House, are left to mumble feeble praise. A summit could possibly break those patterns and lead to the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Cotton said. But we must remain deeply skeptical of North Koreas intentions and under no circumstances should the United States and our allies grant unilateral concessions. Thats a weaker position than that of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who warned in an appearance on Meet the Press that leaders of North Korea, for a very long time, the Kim family has wanted to meet face-to-face with a U.S. president. That is a win for them. It legitimizes, in their view, their dictatorship and legitimizes their nuclear weapons program. She went on: Im in favor of shaking things up if youre sensible about it. But the idea of handing them the prize, that were gonna — you know, this North Korean dictator is going to be able to up in the photograph with an American president, thats the prize. Thats the part they want.
Democrats — Im amazed to be writing these words — should follow Warrens lead. They should denounce the presidents impetuousness and hunger for acclamation as foolish and dangerous. Democrats should push for firm conditions on any meeting, if the leaders ever need to get together at all. Not even Obama gave the supreme leader in Iran the honor of meeting with the free world. The usual objection from the left — it is better to be talking than to fight — is a non sequitur. This is about giving Kim upfront a photo op with the president. We can talk at much lower levels until the cows come home (which will happen before Kim agrees to give up his nukes).
Democrats dont need to cheer war in order to criticize hapless, incompetent diplomacy. Theyd do their own reputations on national security and the country a whole lot of good by making clear that Trumps eagerness to meet directly with Kim without obtaining any concrete objective is a losing move.
President Donald Trumps advisers on Sunday argued that his surprise decision to agree to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was less impulsive than it appeared to U.S. allies and members of Congress.
The advisers, including CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, said the administration had laid the groundwork for talks with Mr. Kim by imposing tougher economic sanctions than previous administrations on the North Korean government.