President Donald Trump has taken increased control of negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, sidelining his own top negotiator and dismissing the warnings of top intelligence and foreign policy advisers in the wake of last month’s failed summit in Vietnam, TIME writes.
In recent days, Trump shut down an effort by Stephen Biegun, nominally the Administration’s lead negotiator with Pyongyang, to reestablish a back channel through the North’s United Nations mission in New York, according to four U.S. and South Korean officials.
At the same time, Trump continues to dismiss the conclusions of the CIA, State and Defense Departments and other agencies that North Korea will not abandon its nuclear weapons program, continuing to insist that he and Kim can negotiate a deal, according to two U.S. officials.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is privately discussing how to respond should North Korea decide to conduct a satellite launch as talks between Washington and Pyongyang appear to be at another impasse, CNN reported.
Rhetoric between the two countries has become more heated and provocative in recent weeks following Trump and Kim Jong-un’s no-deal summit in Hanoi but a North Korean satellite launch would pose a new, high-stakes dilemma for the administration.
Such a launch by the North Koreans would force Trump to make a touch choice: Take a hard line against Pyongyang knowing it could jeopardize already fragile negotiations or implement a more nuanced approach in hopes of preserving the possibility of a diplomatic resolution.
Officials have said that the administration is constantly monitoring activity at various sites via satellites, radars and electronic intelligence.
Administration officials say there is no intelligence at this time that indicates exactly what move the North Koreans might make next but they do acknowledge that a satellite launch could be on the horizon which is why they are having these internal conversations about how the U.S. might react.
Those warnings have taken on added urgency as satellite images picked up activity at the Sohae satellite launch facility around the time of the summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, officials said.
A tepid response to a potential North Korean satellite launch, which is being advocated by officials in the administration, is sure to draw criticisms of double standards given Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s harsh rhetoric aimed at Iran over similar activities earlier this year.