President Donald Trump's team of negotiators will no longer require North Korea to verify its denuclearization efforts, NBC News reported Wednesday evening.
The stunning development is a massive defeat for the president, who is attending a second summit with dictator Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam.
The news completely undermines messaging from White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, who in January promised Trump and Kim would "discuss relations between the two countries and continued progress on North Korea’s final, fully verified denuclearization.”
Trump falsely boasted the day after his first summit with Kim in Singapore last June that "there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea."
Just landed - a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a N… https://t.co/L9KSyYsnZi— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump)1528883817.0
Before taking office people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea. President Obama said that Nor… https://t.co/tA3JOYW9EE— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump)1528884100.0
The focus of the latest round of negotiations was supposed to be the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, which is a "the heart of North Korea’s nuclear program," Dr. Siegfried Hecker, a nuclear scientist familiar with the site, said to NBC.
Shutting down Yongbyon would strike a huge blow to North Korea's ability to enrich plutonium, the fissile material used in conventional and low to moderate-yield atomic weapons.
NBC noted that even though North Korea has offered to pause operations at Yongbyon in past negotiations with the West, the United States has little to offer in exchange, aside from conceding to Kim's demands for sanctions relief.
NBC alluded to recent reports indicating that the North Koreans have actually scaled up their nuclear program in recent years, despite what Trump and the White House have claimed.
"In recent months researchers have discovered that North Korea has as many as 20 undisclosed ballistic missile sites, according to Beyond Parallel, a project sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a defense think tank. One of the sites is the Sino-ri Missile Base about 130 miles north of the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea, where about 28,000 U.S. troops are stationed."
Nobody knows precisely what Trump and Kim will discuss when they meet behind closed doors on Thursday, and the president's unpredictability is bolstered by what he told the Washington Post last fall. Trump said his "gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.”
In other words, the administration's latest concession could mean that efforts to denuclearize North Korea will end up being completely pointless.
American officials "have argued that such a declaration should be gained early in talks given the intelligence assessment that Kim does not intend to denuclearize and that North Korea has a history of concealing sites," NBC wrote.
"Even if North Korea provided a list of locations," officials told NBC, cautioning that "it wouldn’t make much of a difference because a dismantling of them would require a vigorous verification process to which Kim is unlikely to agree. There haven’t been any inspectors on the ground in North Korea during the current talks."
Plutonium enrichment is not the only concern regarding North Korea's nuclear capabilities, however. Recall that in 2017, Kim detonated a 100-kiloton hydrogen bomb, which relies on fusing isotopes of hydrogen - the same process that powers the Sun - rather than splitting atoms of uranium or plutonium.
Fusion or thermonuclear devices have much greater destructive power than fission bombs.
Nevertheless, one thing is clear: Donald Trump is an abysmal negotiator.
The decision to drop a significant component of a potential nuclear deal suggests a reality that U.S. intel assessm… https://t.co/8jnySjb0Nb— Kyle Griffin (@Kyle Griffin)1551309321.0
Trump: Get rid of your nukes. North Korea: No. Trump: Ok. ART OF THE DEAL!— Kaili Joy Gray (@Kaili Joy Gray)1551311610.0
Trump doesn’t care whether North Korea denuclearizes or provides accounting of their weapons program. Let’s hope he… https://t.co/ZyHSUuPOOt— Olga Lautman (@Olga Lautman)1551309639.0
By the time Trump is done he will give North Korea seven states and 50 billion in exchange for a plastic “Nobel Pri… https://t.co/QiFu3EqR2t— Rage Donkey™️ (@Rage Donkey™️)1551312067.0
Current and former U.S. officials note that North Korea has other sites with similar capabilities to Yongbyon, and… https://t.co/KEVOD5Pd1d— Julia Davis (@Julia Davis)1551310962.0
You know who is really about this?
Why, Russia, of course.
#Russia's state TV predicts #NorthKorea will not enter into any major deals with the U.S. re: denuclearization. Ho… https://t.co/dHplJK5ss5— Julia Davis (@Julia Davis)1551310656.0
Honestly, what were we expecting?
@kylegriffin1 Translation...... trump was played again...— Jose Mulero (@Jose Mulero)1551309464.0
@kylegriffin1 @AhmedBaba_ So what's the point if the talks, it looks like nothing more than a Trump needing a distr… https://t.co/pQqKme9KDg— Lawrence Young (@Lawrence Young)1551311379.0
@kylegriffin1 Did anyone believe this would actually happen? Not in the Twilight Zone of the circus peanuts head but in real life.— Kathy O'Neil (@Kathy O'Neil)1551309914.0
Raise your hand if you are fed up with winning.
@kylegriffin1 Trump is so anxious to declare a win that he's willing to cave in to NK.— HolliWinters (@HolliWinters)1551309505.0
@kylegriffin1 It’s also a sign of Trump’s desperate need to come away with some progress to distract from the Cohen testimonies.— Marc Bandman (@Marc Bandman)1551312854.0
@kylegriffin1 True, they do not intend to denuclearize at all. To Kim, denuclearization means the U. S. withdrawal… https://t.co/ngMDmNlECo— S. R. Emers (@S. R. Emers)1551311321.0