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Bruce Klingner, ex-CIA official, warns Donald Trump: Don’t ‘get outplayed again’ by Kim Jong-un

January 20, 2019

A former high-level CIA official in Korea says there’s been “no progress” on denuclearization since President Trump and Kim Jong-un held their historic Singapore summit last June, and warns Mr. Trump can’t afford to “get outplayed again” as the two head toward a second meeting.

Bruce Klingner, a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and former CIA Korea deputy division chief, made the assertion over the weekend, just as Mr. Trump claimed he’d had an “incredible” meeting Friday at the White House with North Korean nuclear envoy Kim Yong Chol, asserting that “a lot of progress” was made on denuclearization.

Mr. Trump’s comments were buttressed by an administration statement after the meeting that the president will hold a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in late February. While officials have yet to disclose where the summit will occur, sources say it will most likely be in Vietnam.

Friday’s White House meeting marked the first sign of significant movement in months in what critics describe as a stalled push by the U.S. and South Korea to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons weapons developed for decades in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The meeting was followed by other signs of momentum over the weekend, with South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reporting Sunday that senior U.S. and North Korean officials have kicked off their first “working level” talks in Sweden to prepare for the second Trump-Kim summit.

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun arrived in Stockholm on Saturday for four days of meetings with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui, according to the Yonhap report, which added that South Korea’s top nuclear envoy, Lee Do-hoon, had also arrived in Sweden for a possible three-way negotiation.

The State Department has remained mum on the Sweden meeting, triggering speculation that the Trump administration may be seeking some form of interim deal with North Korea that could involved limited sanctions relief for Pyongyang in exchange for movement by Mr. Kim toward abandoning his nuclear arsenal or his intercontinental ballistic missiles that directly threaten the U.S. homeland.

The White House pushed back over the weekend against the notion that any sanctions relief will occur on an interim basis, with administration press secretary Sarah Sanders telling reporters the U.S. “is going to continue to keep pressure and sanctions on North Korea until we see fully and verified denuclearization.”

The Kim regime in Pyongyang has halted its nuclear and missile tests over the past year. But Kim Jong-un has said recently that he will only fully denuclearize if the U.S. removes its own nuclear threat from the Korean peninsula a statement many read as a sign the North Korean leader won’t budge unless the Trump administration removes American troops and other military assets from South Korea.

Critics, including some key conservative analysts, say the two sides have been locked in a stalemate since the first Trump-Kim summit last June, and warn Mr. Kim seeks to draw concessions directly from Mr. Trump without taking any serious, verifiable steps toward denuclearizing.

“The U.S. and North Korea have no made no progress on denuclearization since the Singapore Summit. It’s not so much that the process has been derailed, it simply never left the station,” Mr. Klingner said in comments circulated to reporters over the weekend.

“Trump, an avid golfer, might claim that first summit as his mulligan. But he can’t afford to land in the rough or get outplayed again in his second match with Kim Jong-un. Nor can Trump give away any more gimme putts to Kim,” he said.

“During a second summit, Trump must insist on tangible steps toward North Korean denuclearization, including a data declaration of the regime’s nuclear and missile programs,” Mr. Klingner added. “Trump shouldn’t offer more concessions nor agree to reduce U.N. and U.S. sanctions until Kim moves beyond the symbolic gestures it has taken so far.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has led the administration’s push for diplomacy with the Kim regime with multiple trips to Pyongyang over the past two years, lashed out at critics of the effort on Friday.

“Some critics have said we’ve offered too much. Many critics have said we haven’t offered enough. I don’t have much to add other than the president has made enormous strides in working with North Korea to get their commitment to denuclearize,” Mr. Pompeo said in an interview with Sinclair Broadcast Group. “We now need to execute. We need to implement. We’ve always known this would be a long process. While we do that we need to make sure we reduce risk, and we’ve done that.”

“There aren’t nuclear tests being conducted. There haven’t been missile tests conducted. These are things that were threatening the United States when President Trump took office,” he added. “We want to reduce that risk, reduce North Korea’s capacity to build out their program. These discussions are an important component for making sure that we do everything we can to deliver on the commitments that were made in Singapore between Chairman Kim and President Trump.”

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