It’s been nearly three years since Barack Obama warned Donald Trump that the biggest danger he’d face would be North Korea’s nuclear weapons. Since then, Trump’s met three times with the North Korean dictator, including a made-for-TV visit to the demilitarized zone; cultivated a flourishing pen-pal relationship with Kim Jong Un; obtained a shaky pledge from Pyongyang to not conduct nuclear- and long-range-missile tests; and secured the release of some American prisoners.
What he hasn’t achieved is the denuclearization of North Korea.
With time running out in his first term, Trump might have to settle for keeping the North Korean nuclear arsenal from getting much worse—or maybe, if there’s a diplomatic breakthrough, scaling it back. The price might be sanctions relief for North Korea. The question is whether that will prove too high a price for the Trump administration.
The “political rationale” for Trump is, “You don’t have to solve the problem, but you have to show evidence that the problem is being managed,” Scott Snyder, a Korea expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, told me. “The question becomes, What does a deal look like that can get you started in a credible way but probably not get finished? Simply because there’s not enough time.”