The instability of President Donald Trump's White House and a lack of time make it almost impossible to lay the necessary groundwork for the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta wrote for CNBC on Tuesday.
"It is no secret that this president has little diplomatic knowledge or experience, nor does he have the patience to devote the time necessary to fully prepare for a high-level summit," according to Panetta, who was secretary of Defense and director of the CIA under President Barack Obama, as well as former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton.
These drawbacks are in addition to the large turnover of key American personnel in critical national security positions, which makes an already difficult task of preparing properly for such a summit highly unlikely.
Panetta stressed that this is a recipe for disaster, because "Without a comprehensive and well thought-out strategy working closely with our allies, this president is likely to walk into a summit believing that the strength of his personality alone plus his gut instincts will be enough to prevail."
In the meantime, Panetta said, Kim took an important step preparing for the summit by visiting China to get President Xi Jinping's support for his position, while South Korean President Moon Jae-in is readying for a meeting this month with North Korea to discuss issues of mutual concern ahead of the May summit.
But Trump, Panetta asserts, "appears to be doing little to fully prepare for the complex issues that will have to be addressed at any summit," and instead is merely "tweeting his hope for a successful summit."
Panetta emphasized that serious talks with Pyongyang would have to include Trump pressing Kim "to freeze nuclear and missile testing, halt the production of nuclear weapons fuel and the deployment of nuclear weapons, and establish a verification process that will require an inspection regime."
After that, Panetta said, "the United States and its allies will have to consider what steps they will be prepared to take in return: force structure reductions, economic aid, issues related to a permanent peace agreement with North Korea."
Since it is near impossible to properly evaluate these scenarios in the next few weeks and coordinate them with our allies, Panetta suggested that Trump has two choices to avoid a disastrous summit: either assume it will mainly be a photo op with Kim "with an agreement on a broad framework of issues to be considered in future negotiations," or to postpone any summit until "negotiators have determined that there is in fact a set of elements and conditions that can be agreed to that will result in the denuclearization of North Korea."
Panetta said the current circumstances do provide an important opportunity to arrive at a potential deal with North Korea and conceded that Trump deserves some of the credit for bringing this about due to ramped-up sanctions and his relationship with Xi, but he said that making the meeting successful will not be achieved through tweeting, only "serious preparation, careful planning and extensive consultation with our allies."
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