President Trump will meet with Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Wednesday. It will be the second time Trump has met with the North Korean dictator since taking office, the first coming last June when the two leaders convened in Singapore. Trump emerged from that summit speaking breathlessly about the close bond he developed with the man who uses anti-aircraft guns to execute officials who disagree with him. Kim has a “great personality,” Trump said while dismissing the more unsavory aspects of his authoritarian regime.
Trump also touted victory, claiming on Twitter the next day that “there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea” and that the nation is no longer America’s “biggest and most dangerous problem,” as it was under President Obama. “Sleep well tonight!” Trump wrote.
In the eight months since they first met, Trump has maintained that all is well and that North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are of no concern to the United States. Unfortunately, reality hasn’t quite amended itself to the president’s rosy delusions about his relationship with the dictator. As Trump has boasted about the “love” he shares with Kim, the U.S. intelligence community has warned repeatedly that North Korea is still very much a threat to the United States and has no intentions of relinquishing its nuclear arsenal.
Trump is likely to emerge from the summit this week with renewed confidence in his relationship with Kim, and possibly with renewed complaints that he has not been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. Consider the below timeline a reminder of the chasm that exists between reality as the president sees it, and reality as it actually is regarding U.S.-North Korea relations. A lot has happened since the summit in Singapore. Most of it is not good.
Trump proclaims there is “no longer” a nuclear threat from North Korea.
Satellite photos show that North Korea is making “rapid” upgrades to Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, its only known nuclear research facility.
U.S. intelligence officials tell NBC News that North Korea has “increased its production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months.”
Citing U.S. intelligence officials, the Washington Post reports that North Korea “does not intend to fully surrender its nuclear stockpile,” and that it is working to “conceal the number of weapons it has and secret production facilities” from the United States. The intelligence was reportedly gathered following the summit between Trump and Kim in Singapore.
Satellite images reveal North Korea is expanding a key missile manufacturing site.”The Chemical Materials Institute seems like they have one function, and that’s pumping out parts for their missile program,” said David Schmerler, a research associate at Middlebury Institute for International Studies, which analyzed the images, according to CNN.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travels to North Korea to try to hammer some specifics of Kim’s vague promise to denuclearize. The talks went nowhere, with North Korea calling Pompeo “gangster-like” and his trip “deeply regrettable.”
Trump isn’t phased, tweeting two days later that he has “confidence that Kim Jong Un will honor the contract we signed &, even more importantly, our handshake. We agreed to the denuclearization of North Korea.”
Trump received a “nice note” from Kim.
A very nice note from Chairman Kim of North Korea. Great progress being made! pic.twitter.com/6NI6AqL0xt
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 12, 2018
The Post reports that North Korea is “constructing new missiles at a factory that produced the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.”
The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency releases a report stating a belief that North Korea could be enriching uranium and expanding its nuclear capabilities. “The continuation and further development of the DPRK’s nuclear program and related statements by the DPRK are a cause for grave concern,” the IAEA wrote.
Trump cancels a Pompeo trip to North Korea after receiving a warning from North Korea that the secretary of state might not receive the warmest welcome. “We are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Trump tweeted in announcing that Pompeo would not be making the trip as planned.
New intelligence reveals that North Korea is taking additional measure to conceal nuclear activity, from building structures to hide at least one warhead facility to transporting warheads. Though intelligence officials reached by NBC News did not speculate as to why the warheads were being moved, a former official noted that this is a tactic to prevent intelligence gathering. “Since the beginning of 2018, Kim has surrendered and dismantled no nuclear weapons, but has likely built five to nine new nuclear weapons,” senior researcher at the RAND Corporation and Northeast Asia military affairs expert Bruce W. Bennett told the network. “So he has not frozen his nuclear program and he has certainly not been denuclearizing; instead, he has been nuclearizing.”
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announces that Trump received a “very warm, very positive” letter from Kim, and that they have begun planning a second summit. Sanders described the letter as “further evidence of progress” between the two nations.
Kim tells South Korean President Moon Jae-in that he would commit to dismantling certain fuel production facilities if the U.S. also made certain concessions. He does not commit to denuclearizing, as the United States has demanded. Trump called the news “very exciting.”
After another visit to North Korea, Pompeo says that Kim agreed to let inspectors visit a key nuclear site that had been demolished in testing in May. “Chairman Kim invited inspectors to visit the Punggye-ri nuclear test site to confirm that it has been irreversibly dismantled,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. Several experts downplayed the significance of allowing the defunct site to be inspected.
The real takeaway from this Punggye-ri pledge is that Kim has mastered the art of milking a single cosmetic concession for months to burn clock. We are still talking about Punggye-ri and Sohae 6 months after he pledged to dismantle them. Brilliantly selling the same horse twice. pic.twitter.com/sAKq7ZABdV
— Vipin Narang (@NarangVipin) October 7, 2018
The New York Times reports that North Korea is “moving ahead with its ballistic missile program at 16 hidden bases that have been identified in new commercial satellite images.” In September, the Trump administration cited the fact that North Korea’s 70th anniversary parade did not feature ballistic missiles as a sign of progress.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in says Trump told him during a meeting in Argentina that he “likes” Kim and that “he asked me to tell Chairman Kim that he wants to implement the rest of their agreement together and he will fulfil Chairman Kim’s wishes.”
Two experts on North Korea’s missile program tell theTimes that North Korea is expanding the capabilities of a key missile base that “would be one of the most likely sites for deploying intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.”
North Korea says it won’t denuclearize unless the American “nuclear threat” is eliminated.
National Intelligence Director Dan Coats testified before Congress that North Korea is still very much a nuclear threat. “We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its [weapons of mass destruction] capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival,” he said.
A day later, Trump lashed out at Coats and other intelligence officials on Twitter, writing that they should “go back to school” while assuring followers that all is well with North Korea. Kind of.
….Fighting continues but the people of Afghanistan want peace in this never ending war. We will soon see if talks will be successful? North Korea relationship is best it has ever been with U.S. No testing, getting remains, hostages returned. Decent chance of Denuclearization…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 30, 2019
…Time will tell what will happen with North Korea, but at the end of the previous administration, relationship was horrendous and very bad things were about to happen. Now a whole different story. I look forward to seeing Kim Jong Un shortly. Progress being made-big difference!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 30, 2019
“North Korea relationship is best it has ever been with U.S.” he wrote. “No testing, getting remains, hostages returned. Decent chance of Denuclearization. Time will tell what will happen with North Korea, but at the end of the previous administration, relationship was horrendous and very bad things were about to happen. Now a whole different story. I look forward to seeing Kim Jong Un shortly. Progress being made-big difference!”
We hope we’re wrong, but we’re not optimistic.