WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s Singapore summit with Kim Jong Un may be unprecedented, but during a quarter-century of on-off nuclear talks with North Korea, U.S. officials have learned a thing or two about dealing with an inscrutable adversary and have tried many tactics to get their way: quiet persuasion, black humor and even walking out of the room.
Across the table, they’ve faced dogged North Korea negotiators who launch into anti-American tirades, reflecting a doctrinaire mindset and the vast ideological gulf between two nations still technically at war. But they’ve also encountered officials who are polite, know their brief inside-out, and occasionally flash wit.
As Trump prepares to meet with Kim on Tuesday, there’s uncertainty about how the two headstrong leaders will get along and whether the former real estate mogul can extract nuclear concessions from the young North Korean autocrat.
Dinner with Kim Jong Il
The closest the U.S. has come in the past to holding a leadership summit with North Korea was in the dying months of the Clinton administration when the North expressed willingness to reach a deal restricting its ballistic missile program. Wendy Sherman was a close aide to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright when she visited Pyongyang in October 2000, exploring that possibility.
As a gift for then-autocrat Kim Jong Il — the current leader’s father — Albright had brought a basketball signed by Michael Jordan after learning that the diminutive Kim was a fan of the NBA.
During negotiations, the Americans were impressed by Kim’s mastery of missile technicalities. At dinner, an aide to Kim was leading constant toasts with soju, the fiery Korean liquor, leaving some of the U.S. delegation worse for wear.
Sherman said the North Korea leader was strangely protective of Albright and herself, who were seated on either side of Kim, several times waving the aide away. The atmosphere around the North leader was constrained. “No one is going to disagree with him. No one is going to correct him. What he says, goes,” Sherman said.
When a dancing troupe performed, and one dancer made a mistake, Kim was visibly displeased. “We were quite concerned for that young woman: that she had displeased the leader and that she would pay for it,” Sherman said.
Advice for Trump: “There is no trust between the United States and North Korea, any more than there is between the United States and Iran. There may be some respect or regard for the subject at hand, but no one should stop thinking for a moment about the horrific conditions in North Korea.”
Pulling out fingernails
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Clinton, has been a frequent interlocutor with North Korea since the 1990s, visiting eight times, often to seek the release of American detainees and acting in an independent capacity. He believes the North may agree to curbs on its nuclear program but won’t abandon it.
“North Koreans are very tough to deal with,” said Richardson. “They don’t think like we do. We think in terms of a compromise, quid pro quo. You do this, we do that. Their idea of negotiating is they’ll give you more time for you to get to their position.”
He said the best way to get results is to let them vent at formal talks, and then try to negotiate at a meal or in a walk outside the meeting, but he worried that Trump’s hip-shooting style could jar with North Koreans.
FILE - In this Oct. 23, 2000, file photo, North Korean Leader Kim Jong Il, left, shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the Pae Kha Hawon Guest House in Pyongyang. President Donald Trump's Singapore summit with Kim Jong Un may be unprecedented, but during a quarter-century of on-off nuclear talks with North Korea, U.S. officials have learned a thing or two about dealing with an inscrutable adversary. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder, Pool, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 7, 2008, file photo, U.S. nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill, center, speaks to the press at a hotel in Beijing, China, Sunday, Dec. 7, 2008. President Donald Trump's Singapore summit with Kim Jong Un may be unprecedented, but during a quarter-century of on-off nuclear talks with North Korea, U.S. officials have learned a thing or two about dealing with an inscrutable adversary(AP Photo/ Elizabeth Dalziel, File)