ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Careful, President Trump. Kim Jong-un has passed the word that he’s in the “can we talk?” mood.

The North Korean leader says he wants to talk about turning in his nukes for some late-model plowshares.

He’ll consider doing that if Mr. Trump guarantees the continued existence of Mr. Kim and his regime till natural death parts them — if it does.

While there are many reasons to think dictator Kim Jong-un is gaming us and will not de-nuke North Korea, there’s only one imaginable reason why someone in his position might actually consider unilaterally denuclearizing.

The reason, we’re expected to believe, is the poor soul can’t bear to let his people starve in the cold and dark because the U.N. economic sanctions against him are totally crippling his economy.

But Mr. Kim, whose country ranks 197th in per capita GDP, is willing to starve his people in the cold and dark and to spend the food-and-fuel money on nukes and missiles, the U.N. reports.

Why would he bring misery to his fellow North Koreans? Because, pound for pound and dollar for dollar, Kim may well be a more vile, amoral dictator than either Joe Stalin and Mao Zedong. Check out his record on your web browser.

Mr. Kim is like everyone else in at least one way: He cottons to things that serve his interests. 

It doesn’t serve his interest to give up his nukes. Doing so would make him just another one of that vanishing breed of failed Marxist true-believers, brutally running a corrupt, third-world s–hole that can’t keep the lights on or food on its people’s tables.

With nukes, he gets to play on the world stage. He also gets to try his hand at toying with the leader of the Free World.

The Kim family of dictators have had the U.S. over a barrel from the start.  When we took their nuclear advances seriously, we thundered “Stop or else.” They nodded — and played us for dithering fools, They signed nonproliferation agreements, unsigned them, stalled, stalled and stalled. All the while, the dirty little secret has been that there was and is no “Or else.”  

The North has 15,000 cannons and rocket launchers hidden in granite mountain faces. They’re primed to destroy thousands of South Koreans in the first minutes of a U.S. airstrike aimed at taking out the North’s nuclear facilities.

That was always true. Now, according to Defense Secretary James Mattis, North Korea has ballistic missiles that can hit “everywhere in the world.”  

Would Mr. Kim really do that — and invite a nuclear holocaust — just to retaliate for our going after him and his nukes?

Why not? What would he have to lose? 

He knows we’d get him on the first bombing runs or later if necessary — the way we got Saddam Hussein.

But for now, he’s got us all in a box, including Mr. Trump, who long ago said he’s ready to sit down with anyone to talk peace.

So if Mr. Trump says he won’t meet with Mr. Kim because he knows the man is full of it, it’ll look bad. Mr. Trump will get hammered for not giving peace a chance.

If Mr. Trump does sit down with Mr. Kim, that too will look bad. The leader of the Free World dignifying this monster and congenital liar by treating him as an equal?  

Inevitably, handed that face-to-face meeting, Mr. Kim will take us all for a ride. He’ll say he’ll de-nuke but only if his regime is guaranteed a permanent and secure existence.

To do that, the U.S. and South Korea would have to stand down militarily in ways Seoul and certainly Washington have never stood down for anybody.

Mr. Kim will demand other concessions that are just as inherently a no-go.

Mr. Trump will come home emptyhanded, looking bad and in the full knowledge he has been had.

The way out of this trap is for Mr. Trump to start playing Mr. Kim.

Ask him what’s his bottom line on concessions from Washington and Seoul before any meeting takes place.

Will he guarantee that he will not suddenly demand more concessions at a meeting?

Will he permit unlimited, unannounced U.N. inspections 24/7?

Will his police-state apparatus allow the North Koreans people unfettered Internet and broadcast access to the outside world?

Will he stop imprisoning foreigners accused of spying and instead simply deport them?  

No?

Then sorry, Mr. Leader-for-Ever, no face-to-face with POTUS. Keep your nukes — and stay awake at night in expectation of the unexpected from the unpredictable commander-in-chief of the mightiest military on earth.

• Ralph Z. Hallow, chief political writer at The Washington Times, has covered Washington since 1982.

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