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Trump, after granting a big concession to North Korea, is left waiting for Kim to return the favor

Key Points
  • On the overriding American priority of eliminating Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program, there's still no sign of major breakthroughs anytime soon.
  • By reinstating the face-to-face session he earlier cancelled, Trump has already granted a concession prized by North Korean leaders for years.
President Donald Trump gestures toward journalists shouting questions as he departs the White House May 29, 2018 in Washington, DC.
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The world can welcome news that President Trump's summit with Kim Jong-un is back on – but only a little.

Nearly everyone prefers diplomacy to threats of nuclear war. Trump won't travel to Singapore on June 12 to exchange hostile words with his North Korean counterpart.

But on the overriding American priority of eliminating Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program, there's still no sign of major breakthroughs anytime soon. And by reinstating the face-to-face session he earlier cancelled, Trump has already granted a concession prized by North Korean leaders for years.

The president's words today usefully re-balanced expectations that had sailed out of control. Abandoning the idea he'll persuade Kim to rapidly "denuclearize," Trump described the summit as merely a "get-to-know-you" session to be followed by additional meetings.

Since experts doubt North Korea has any intention of surrendering all its nuclear weapons, that re-calibration reduces risks of a summit ending badly and escalating tensions anew.

VIDEO2:5502:55
Trump: Relationship with North Korea as good as it's been in a long time

Yet Trump, veering sharply in the opposite direction, gave no indication that North Korea is prepared to make any concrete concessions at all.

The president said the meeting would produce no formal, signed agreement. He didn't raise North Korea's notorious human rights violations in Friday's lengthy Oval Office chat with Kim's top deputy.

Because "we're talking so nicely," Trump told reporters he's withholding additional planned sanctions on Pyongyang. He even renounced the signature shorthand for his entire North Korea policy.

"I don't want to use the term 'maximum pressure' anymore," Trump explained. "We're getting along."

His softer new tone, just a week ago after scuttling the session with a warning for Kim about America's "massive and powerful" nuclear arsenal, took some veteran national security officials aback.

"Astounding," former U.S. Ambassador to North Korea Chris Hill told me. "There seems absolutely no commitment to denuke, or anything else."

That led former Obama White House official Ned Price to say that Kim has gained an early upper-hand over an American president who boasts of his deal-making skills. Like his predecessors, the North Korea dictator has viewed a one-on-one summit as a valuable elevation in international status – all the more significant now that he possesses nuclear weapons.

Indeed, the leader of Trump's party in the Senate voiced concern before the White House re-scheduled the summit. If you "want the deal too much," Mitch McConnell warned, "you could get snookered."

Given decades of frustration with North Korea policy, others were relieved simply to have talks revived at all.

"Hopefully the start of a long process," said Richard Haass, a former adviser to George W. Bush now at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"Periodically it's necessary to test the diplomacy," added James Steinberg, a national security advisor to presidents Clinton and Obama.

"I'm not awarding any Nobel prizes yet," concluded Michael O'Hanlon, who also served in the Clinton White House. "But compared with the real risks of nuclear war, I am encouraged."

As for fears that Trump has given too much for too little, one conservative foreign policy specialist insisted that standards for his predecessors simply don't apply to the blustery former real estate tycoon.

"Yes, if the president is a normal president," explained Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute. "But in this case, I'd say a meeting is just a meeting."

—By CNBC's John Harwood. Follow him on Twitter:

WATCH: Trump says N. Korea summit back on

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Trump: North Korea summit will be held on June 12
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