North Koreaâ€™s latest threats havenâ€™t yet doomed the summit planned between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un - but they underscore a vital point. The White House should prepare itself and the American people for failure.
Comments from one of the Northâ€™s top nuclear negotiators have exposed a basic contradiction in the adversariesâ€™ approaches to the June 12 meeting in Singapore. The U.S. wants to set a quick timetable for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile programs - what it calls â€ścomplete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.â€ť Kim says he wants to â€śdenuclearize,â€ť but has a much longer timeframe in mind - one that could last decades, until North Korea no longer feels threatened. In the meantime, he expects trade, investment and aid.
None of this should be shocking: The North has merely clarified its opening position. The U.S. could stand to be a bit clearer as well.
North Korea seems to have been provoked by the comments of National Security Adviser John Bolton, who says Kim should ship his entire nuclear arsenal to the U.S., as former Libyan dictator Moammar Ghadafi did, before sanctions are relaxed. Ghadafiâ€™s fate may not recommend this approach to Kim.
The U.S. shouldnâ€™t soften its position - but it needs to speak with one measured voice about what denuclearization means. If the summit fails, maintaining the global campaign of â€śmaximum pressureâ€ť against the North wonâ€™t be easy.
That means Trump should already be discussing with Chinese President Xi Jinping how far the U.S. is and isnâ€™t willing to go.
If talks fail and other nations arenâ€™t willing to follow Washingtonâ€™s lead, the U.S. is setting itself up for a bigger failure than a busted summit.