Breaking: North Korea frees three Americans, Trump tweets

Mission accomplished — for now. Mike Pompeo scored two major successes on his brief jaunt to Pyongyang, and Donald Trump scooped everyone on both:

The release of the hostages has been expected for a few days, so much so that at least one reporter tried to get Trump to comment on it after yesterday’s announcement on the Iran deal. Reportedly, North Korean officials had moved the three Americans to a hotel outside of Pyongyang to prepare for the handover and to presumably get them medical treatment to make them presentable. Trump gives them credit for being in “good health,” at least publicly. We’ll see soon enough how accurate that is, but Trump says he’ll be there in person to greet them when they arrive:

The second piece of good news was also expected. Pompeo’s public mission to North Korea this time was to set the meeting date for the Kim-Trump summit, and that’s also now checked off the list. No word yet on the date or the place, but that will likely come very soon.

So far, the North Korean track has become a big win for Trump. The question will be whether Trump will walk away if Kim tries leveraging all of the claims of success made by Trump to avoid hard concessions on his nuclear program. Kim’s already signaling that “denuclearization” is a term of art for the regime:

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants to talk to President Trump about “phased and synchronous measures” to deal with the standoff over the North’s nuclear program, Chinese state media reported Tuesday after Kim made his second visit to China in as many months.

This wording, coupled with Kim’s desire to “eventually achieve denuclearization and lasting peace on the peninsula,” will ring alarm bells in Washington as it reinforces suspicions that the North Korean leader will ask Trump to take simultaneous steps to reduce tensions. …

There is considerable skepticism among analysts that Kim, having tried so hard to get a credible nuclear weapons program, is about to give it all up — certainly not without extracting major concessions from the United States. That could include reducing the U.S. military footprint in South Korea.

Kim’s giving up a lot of leverage up front. He’s eventually going to want this to pay off. If Trump has to walk away … can he, after all the “winning” he’s claimed thus far?

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