Korea expert Victor Cha on the big summit
By Joseph Hincks/Seoul
HAD VICTOR CHA BEEN NOMINATED AS U.S. ambassador to South Korea,
he might have spent his spring preparing for the summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
But the former Bush Administration official was dropped as a candidate in January
after voicing opposition to preemptive military action on the regime.
He tells TIME about his expectations for the summit.
South Korean President Moon Jaein credited Trump’s “maximum pressure” for bringing Kim to the negotiating table.
Do you think this policy of heavy sanctions was a key driver?
I do. In 2017 they were able to get more economic pressure on the regime than it’s ever felt before.
I was always of the view that that policy would work,
because North Korea doesn’t tend to lash out militarily when they feel economic pressure.
They want to come to the negotiating table and see how they can get that pressure taken off.
Is the White House correct to say the Obama Administration’s policy of “strategic patience” with North Korea failed?
We had a period of eight years where the North Korea missile and nuclear problem got exponentially worse.
One could argue that it was the fault of the policy.
One could also argue that the North Koreans had a very clear plan
and that there was nothing the Obama Administration could have done to take them off that course.
I think there’s credibility to that second argument.
This is just not an issue historically to bet on if you are looking for a win.
There’s a theory Kim is an enlightened reformer looking for a way to do things differently. Do you buy that?
People are entitled to that theory, but there’s a very clear, systematic approach he has been taking,
which is to go full bore over the past two years on the nuclear weapons program.
Kim declared it complete in December, and they feel like they’re now secure with this capability.