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A rally supporting U.S. policy of putting pressure on North Korea, Seoul, South Korea, May 18, 2018 (AP photo by Ahn Young-joon).

The Danger, and Irrelevance, of the Libya and Iran Analogies to Korea Diplomacy

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

SEOUL—Without knowing how many plot twists are left in U.S. President Donald Trump’s attempt to engage with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, it’s hard to know if the play will end up being a tragedy, a comedy or a satirical farce. The audacity of Trump’s belief that he can transform the Korean Peninsula into a denuclearized zone of peace in mere weeks is matched by his inability or unwillingness to master the historical issues and complex constraints that have so far kept the parties from achieving the breakthrough he seeks.

One of the reasons the plot keeps changing is the administration’s unhelpful use of analogies to other policy interventions that sought to reduce or prevent nuclear dangers, particularly in Libya and Iran. The Libya analogy invoked by Vice President Mike Pence and Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, ostensibly offended Kim last week, triggering the sequence of events that culminated—for now—in Trump’s letter calling off the summit. So it seemed, anyway. It may have all been staged to reassert Trump’s control of the narrative, after Kim’s trip to Beijing to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping left Trump feeling he needed to establish his primacy in this courtship. ...

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