Following a summit in Singapore and a joint declaration by the leaders of the United States and North Korea, pundits and politicos on both sides of the aisle have heralded the event as historic.
While President Donald Trump’s controversial style in dealing with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has attracted widespread criticism, he has earned cautious praise even from some of his critics.
The two leaders, bitterly embroiled in a public feud many feared could escalate to nuclear war just months ago, are now committed in writing to seeking mutually beneficial peace.
While Wendy Sherman, who served during the Obama administration as undersecretary for political affairs in the State Department, told NPR she thought the summit was “a good thing,” she offered some caveats.
During a panel discussion Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” according to The Hill, Sherman disagreed with a few key aspects of the summit itself, beginning with the appearance of parity between the U.S. and North Korea on the world stage.
“I was a little taken aback by the North Korean flags and the American flags side by side,” she said. “We really aren’t side by side. We aren’t equals to each other.”
The idea of a U.S. president meeting with any despotic ruler without preconditions has been fiercely opposed by Republicans and Democrats in the past, often for reasons similar to Sherman’s depiction of Tuesday’s summit and the surrounding pomp.
"I was a little taken aback by the North Korean flags and the American flags side by side … We aren't equals to each other. This conferred power to Kim Jong Un that I don't think he has yet earned."
– Wendy Sherman, Fmr. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs pic.twitter.com/dKjAWIvpGz
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) June 12, 2018
“This conferred power to Kim Jong Un that I don’t think he has yet earned in terms of the respect from the United States,” she said, according to the Washington Examiner. “That comes from building that relationship.”
Her concern extended to the broadly outlined steps toward peace agreed to by both Trump and Kim.
Sherman said the document lacked even the specifics of negotiations under previous administrations, all of which ultimately collapsed.
“As far as the agreement is concerned, I went back and looked at the previous agreements,” she said. “The 1992 North-South agreement on joint denuclearization was very specific: no nukes, no facilities, inspections. The agreed framework that was done during the Clinton administration by (Assistant Secretary of State) Bob Gallucci was very specific: Close down the reactor until we get light water reactors, non-proliferation proof.”
More than a decade later, a similarly ranking State Department official in the George W. Bush administration attempted to broker such a deal.
Chris Hill, an assistant secretary of state in 2005, wanted “verifiable” denuclearization, Sherman said. That demand ultimately sank the deal.
While Trump has been publicly optimistic that these talks will result in elusive peace in the region, Sherman and others are skeptical that the Kim regime is prepared to abide by any agreement.
“We have not only been here before, but we’ve been here before with much greater specificity,” Sherman said, adding that current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “needs to go back and understand a little bit more about history and he needs to go forward with a team that knows what they’re doing.”
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