World News

Is North Korea a Nuclear Threat or Not? The President Now Says It Is

Posted June 22, 2018 6:42 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — The gulf between President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and a thorny geopolitical reality widened a bit further Friday, when the White House said it would extend a decade-old executive order declaring a national emergency over the nuclear threat from North Korea.

The announcement came days after Trump declared to the world that “everybody can now feel much safer” after his meeting with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un: “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” Trump said on Twitter.

Apparently, there still is.

“The existence and risk of proliferation of weapons-usable fissile material on the Korean Peninsula and the actions and policies of the government of North Korea continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States,” read the notice, delivered through the press secretary Friday.

The national emergency regarding North Korea has been in place since 2008, spanning three presidencies. Now it is a measure that will effectively help keep in place what Trump has referred to as “maximum pressure” on North Korea and Kim, who has said he will take steps to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula but has not begun to dismantle his arsenal of nuclear weapons. Analysts who study the country say it would be premature to declare that progress on denuclearization until that happens.

Pointing this out can incur the wrath of the president. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader, said the summit with Kim had been flimsy.

“The summit was more show than substance, what the Texans call ‘all cattle, no hat,'” Schumer said, confusing the expression.

The crack earned Schumer a public rebuke from the presidential Twitter account.

“Thank you Chuck, but are you sure you got that right?” Trump wrote. “No more nuclear testing or rockets flying all over the place, blew up launch sites. Hostages already back, hero remains coming home & much more!”

The White House’s notice of the national emergency undercut the president, Schumer said Friday.

“We have to treat these negotiations far more seriously than just as a photo op,” he said in a statement. “Saying the North Korea problem is solved doesn’t make it so.”

The reality might not matter to the president or his supporters, who have been inundated with messaging from Trump and his campaign about his diplomatic achievements. At a rally in Duluth, Minnesota, on Wednesday, a broadcast featuring the president’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, and labeled “real news” was beamed down from the arena’s jumbotrons.

“They said that by talking with Kim Jong Un, Donald Trump was going to start World War III,’” Lara Trump said. “And yet here we are on the cusp of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula,” she said, adding, “They won’t try and stop a loser, but they will try and stop a winner.”

In a rambling speech, the president also ran down a list of victories: The North Koreans had stopped all nuclear research. The bodies of the Korean War’s fallen soldiers would be returned to U.S. soil. And, Trump said, “they stopped all nuclear testing.”

It is premature to declare any of those victories as complete, experts said.

To supporters like Lori Larson, a 36-year-old who traveled from Los Angeles to attend the rally, the particulars of the developments were irrelevant.

She blamed the Democrats and the news media for deflecting from the president’s accomplishments. “He stopped the war with North Korea,” Larson said, referring imprecisely to Trump’s efforts. “And the Democrats came back saying there are children missing their families at the border.”