Politics

Former Defense secretaries shed light on why Trump talks with North Korea failed

Key Points
  • Former Defense Secretaries Leon Panetta and James Mattis linked the failed summits between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump to a lack of preparation and not working with allies.
  • "If the president of the United States is going to sit down with another leader, you better damn well be prepared in terms of what are the issues involved and what do we have to agree on so that you get something accomplished," Panetta said of Trump's meetings with Kim.
  • North Korea, the only nation to have tested nuclear weapons this century, spent most of Trump's first year in office perfecting its nuclear arsenal.
President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — Former Defense Secretaries Leon Panetta and James Mattis linked the failed summits between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump to a lack of preparation and not working with allies.

"If the president of the United States is going to sit down with another leader, you better damn well be prepared in terms of what are the issues involved and what do we have to agree on so that you get something accomplished," Panetta said when asked about Trump's meetings with Kim.

"Yes, we made some progress in trying to restrain what happens in North Korea but I think North Korea today represents every bit as great a threat as it did before, if not more," he added.

North Korea, the only nation to have tested nuclear weapons this century, spent most of Trump's first year in office perfecting its nuclear arsenal. Since 2011, Kim has fired more than 90 missiles and had four nuclear weapons tests, which is more than what his father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather, Kim Il Sung, launched over a period of 27 years.

"We did not perhaps have the alignment of the department and we did not engage with our allies at a time where they had to read something in a newspaper about what was going on," Mattis said alongside Panetta at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum.

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The four-star Marine Corps general reiterated the importance of working with allies — an issue that prompted his shock resignation as Trump's secretary of Defense.

"Going alone in this world doesn't work," Mattis began. "And right now, what we are doing, in some cases, is we are working without or against allies," he added.

Panetta, former director of the CIA and secretary of Defense in the Obama administration, echoed Mattis' emphasis on working with allies.

"Jim [Mattis] is absolutely right, the strength of the United States of America lies in our alliances and our ability to work with others," he said. "I understand the president is concerned about making sure people pay for this but he ought to at the same time express concern about the importance of the mission," Panetta said, adding that the U.S. maintains 25,000 troops in the region to counter the North Korean threat.

On Saturday, North Korean state media said that a "very important" test was carried out at a rocket testing ground. Trump responded to the report by tweeting that Kim Jong Un risks losing "everything" if he does not take steps to denuclearize.

"Kim Jong Un is too smart and has far too much to lose, everything actually, if he acts in a hostile way. He signed a strong Denuclearization Agreement with me in Singapore," Trump wrote on Twitter, referring to his first summit with Kim in 2018.

North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations said Saturday that denuclearization was off the negotiating table with the U.S. and lengthy talks with Washington were no longer needed.