Kim Jong Un Expanding Arsenal Right Under Trump's Nose While President Legitimizes Dictator's Human Rights Abuses, North Korea Expert Says

A former nominee to become the U.S. ambassador to South Korea has warned that President Donald Trump's North Korea strategy is not working, and that the president is being outmatched by dictator Kim Jong Un.

Speaking on Morning Joe on Wednesday, Victor Cha—the former director for Asian Affairs in the White House's National Security Council and now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies—said the president's policy of engagement with Pyongyang has not produced any tangible results on denuclearization.

Cha's nomination to become the ambassador to Seoul was dropped in January 2018 after he publicly warned the White House against a pre-emptive strike against North Korea.

At the time, tensions between Washington and Pyongyang were high, the president having threatened "fire and fury" against the North if it did not halt its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.

But relations between the adversaries soon thawed, and by June 2018 the two leaders were sitting down in Singapore for the first-ever meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader.

Since then, the two have met twice more. Trump and his supporters celebrate these meetings as historic achievements and evidence that the president's personal approach to diplomacy gets results.

But for all the warm words and smiling photographs, little of substance has been achieved. Talks on denuclearization and sanctions relief have once again stalled following the pair's Korean border town meeting in June, and the issue looks as intractable as ever.

The North is testing short-range missiles again, though Trump has refused to acknowledge their significance despite objections from American allies and the U.S. national security apparatus. Indeed, the president has expressed his desire to arrange a fourth sit-down meeting with Kim.

But Cha suggested the relationship between Trump and Kim is a "terrible mismatch," which is evidenced by the lack of progress.

"The president deserves credit for really trying something outside the box with North Korea, because we have never done these summits before," Cha said. "But we've now had three meetings between the leaders, and they've achieved absolutely nothing in terms of denuclearization. Meanwhile, they're amassing and expanding and modernizing their capabilities right under the president's nose."

North Korea recently publicized the existence of a new type of submarine, one that experts suspect may be able to carry and launch nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles while at sea. The vehicle is illustrative of Kim's ongoing weapons research against a backdrop of stalled or plodding diplomatic outreach.

Cha described the development as a "game-changer" that would greatly complicate the military equation between the U.S. and North Korea. "This is all happening while Donald Trump says everything is under control," he added.

Opponents of engagement with Kim warned that a bilateral meeting with the young dictator would give him a priceless propaganda victory at home and help legitimize his authoritarian rule over the underdeveloped nation.

Cha branded Kim "the worst human rights violator in the world today," and said that by meeting with him, Trump is "essentially legitimizing all of North Korea's human rights abuses."

"Perhaps one could make the argument that it would be worth it if we were making progress in terms of their giving up their weapons, but we have not seen any progress at all," Cha continued. "We've had three meetings and the president wants a fourth meeting. For what purpose, it's not very clear."

North Korea, Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un
President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un talk while meeting in the Demilitarized Zone on June 30, 2019, in Panmunjom, Korea. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images/Getty