Is a Deal With North Korea Really Possible?

The Gap Between Expectations and Reality

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the construction of the "Wonsan-Kalma shore Tourist Zone" in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Pyongyang, May 25, 2018. KCNA via Reuters

Over the past few weeks, the on again-off again U.S.–North Korean summit has drawn a considerable amount of attention to the question of whether the meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will even take place. But the danger of focusing on Trump and Kim’s game of hot and cold is that it is diverting focus from the more fundamental issue at hand: what a minimally successful agreement between Washington and Pyongyang should look like.

Achieving a substantive and mutually satisfactory agreement is a particularly complex challenge, as the two sides are starting from widely disparate positions that at the most obvious level seek sharply different outcomes. As Trump has made clear, success is defined as immediate CVID (complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization), a difficult-to-grasp phrase that would elicit eye rolls from my North Korean counterparts whenever it was mentioned

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