The second test is Trump’s upcoming summit with Kim Jong-Un. Scheduled for the last days in February in Vietnam, the upshot is far from clear. According to special representative Stephen Biegun, the U.S. offer remains the same: The complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea will be followed by American sanctions relief and economic investment. North Korea’s reply? Drop the sanctions and we’ll think about it.
The uncertainty is compounded by Trump’s reliance on personal diplomacy. We don’t know what the two leaders will say to each other, nor what Pompeo, Bolton, and Biegun (not to mention Kim’s deputies) will do behind the scenes. Count me skeptical that a miracle will occur. The best outcome is therefore the Kissingerian one: keep the process going without any concessions from either side. The status quo, where North Korea refrains from launching ICBMs, is preferable both to open war and to a deal that exposes our allies in East Asia.