What Trump doesn’t seem to realize is that human rights are critical to his negotiation strategy. For one thing, stopping North Korea’s bomb-making activities means blocking the hard currency flows that finance them. Much of that money comes from the regime’s slave-labor exports and other abusive business activities.
Second, in order to verify any nuclear deal, inspectors have to be able to move around the country to different sites. That will require a much more open North Korean society than exists today, for which the U.S. should be pressing simultaneously with denuclearization.
Third, raising human rights can strengthen U.S. leverage in the talks. Over the past three decades, North Korea has barely cracked a yawn when Washington has condemned its nuclear activities. But, when the international community began shining a spotlight on Pyongyang’s human-rights abuses in 2014, the reclusive regime, feeling vulnerable, quickly dispatched diplomats abroad to lobby against punitive resolutions at the U.N.