In the aftermath of the Singapore summit, Elliott Abrams reflects on what role human rights should play in U.S. policy toward “the most brutal regime on earth”:
[R]aising human-rights issues will not destroy the effort to change North Korea’s nuclear conduct. President George W. Bush raised freedom of religion repeatedly with Chinese leaders, and that did not prevent a working relationship. President Reagan put human-rights issues at the center of his relations with the Soviets, and that did not prevent remarkable progress in the relationship. . . .
[Furthermore], how we act toward North Korea must reflect who we are as Americans, even if the impact over there is slight. . . . The Trump administration must recognize that among our nation’s greatest assets is our association with the cause of liberty. Working for the peaceful expansion of the frontiers of liberty is not a sucker’s game, or a disadvantage or liability, or a waste of resources. It is in very concrete ways one of the greatest advantages of the United States in world politics. It is ultimately what ties allies like Australia, South Korea, and Japan to us: the knowledge that what we seek for them is what we seek for ourselves—peace, security, and liberty.
The alternative is to leave those allies, and others, with the sense that our relations with North Korea exclude them and their interests, which we have forgotten. That is what happened in the Obama administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran: close allies situated near Iran, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel, came to believe their own interests were simply being forgotten. We saw in 2009 that the Obama administration viewed protests in Iran askance, not as the people’s call for freedom but as an inconvenience to negotiations with the regime. Japan and other allies in Asia have critical security interests at stake in our relations with North Korea, and we should always give pride of place to maintaining close and longstanding alliances as we undertake to open new relationships with hostile powers.
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