In his March 13 commentary, “What critics of North Korea summit get wrong,” Peter Van Buren adduces four errors on the part of those who criticize U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. Sadly, each of his arguments is fatally flawed.

First, Van Buren says that critics claim that the proposed summit will legitimize North Korea, but that “Washington already recognizes North Korea as a nation state.” This is obvious but not the issue, which is that Washington has not recognized the North Korean regime. (Recognition is granted by establishing diplomatic relations.)

Second, Van Buren says it is disingenuous to claim that there is no one to negotiate with North Korea at the State Department because the ranks are “gutted.” He then names three current Korea experts at state. This might be a persuasive argument if Trump had any trust whatsoever in these officials. But since he is the one who engineered the gutting and routinely refers to government workers as part of a “swamp” and “deep state,” there is no realistic possibility he would elevate such “bureaucrats” to negotiating positions.

Third, Van Buren rejects the argument that it is wrong to start with a summit and cites the historical example of U.S. President Richard Nixon’s successful summit that opened China in 1972. But that summit was the end result of yearlong secret negotiations between U.S. National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and Chinese officials. The Nixon trip to Beijing and establishment of bilateral relations had already been agreed on.

Finally, Van Buren says it is wrong to say that North Korea is not serious about negotiations. This is another slight of hand. Of course, North Korea is serious about negotiations. The real question is whether the regime is serious about giving up its nuclear weapons, which would actually make the talks worthwhile.

I spent 30 years in the Foreign Service, but hope I make fewer glaring mistakes than he does in this commentary.


The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.