On Wednesday—just after Donald Trump gushed about falling “in love” with North Korea’s dictator and ahead of another trip by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang to prepare for a second summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un—Lindsey Graham delivered a stark message to the U.S. president: End the lovefest.
“I’m telling President Trump, ‘Enough with I love you,’” said the Republican senator, a close ally of Trump’s who had spoken to the president right before joining Jeffrey Goldberg on stage at The Atlantic Festival. “This love crap needs to stop. There’s nothing to love about Kim Jong Un.”
Trump is “trying to pull [Kim into] his orbit” out of the belief that “charm works,” Graham noted, but “I’m worried that North Korea is dividing us from South Korea. I’m worried that we’re being played here.” Noting that previous negotiations in recent decades failed to stop North Korea from developing a nuclear-weapons arsenal, he added that “I don’t know how this ends, but we’re into another round of engagement. And here’s what I worry about: You get sucked into the love thing—and nothing changes.”
Graham advised Trump to take a host of extremely aggressive measures against North Korea before the current round of talks, and he told me less than a year ago that there was a 70 percent chance of Trump unleashing all-out war against Kim if the North tested another nuclear bomb. On Wednesday he argued that there is only one scenario in which the North Korean leader will actually relinquish his nuclear program. It doesn’t involve expressions of love. It doesn’t involve easing economic sanctions against North Korea, which the United States has lifted in the past to no avail. It doesn’t involve gestures of peace like a declaration to formally end the Korean War, which North and South Korea are now pressuring the United States to adopt and which Graham said should come only “after [the North Koreans] give up their nukes.”