In his deal with Trump, Kim gave up very lit­tle

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - OPINION - DAVID IG­NATIUS

Credit Pres­i­dent Trump for seiz­ing the diplo­matic mo­ment at the Sin­ga­pore sum­mit. But the per­son who most shaped this ex­tra­or­di­nary en­counter was North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Who is in­deed, as Trump said Tues­day, a “very tal­ented” young man who has achieved some­thing that “one out of 10,000 prob­a­bly couldn’t do.”

It’s al­most a magic trick, what Kim has ac­com­plished: He has ob­tained Trump as a part­ner in re­brand­ing his poor, bru­tally au­to­cratic coun­try as a mod­ern con­dore­sort in­vest­ment project. He has of­fered a vague prom­ise to “work to­ward com­plete de­nu­cle­ariza­tion” and some­how con­vinced Trump to de­scribe the thin, half-page sum­mit com­mu­nique as a “very com­pre­hen­sive” agree­ment.

Per­haps this deal will lead even­tu­ally to the com­plete, ver­i­fi­able, ir­re­versible de­nu­cle­ariza­tion that Trump had pro­claimed was his goal. But for now, Kim has given up very lit­tle mil­i­tar­ily, in re­turn for a pub­lic em­brace from the world’s most pow­er­ful na­tion. Most im­por­tant, Kim has ob­tained, again at min­i­mal cost, a pledge that Amer­ica will halt mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with South Korea, un­der­cut­ting the most sig­nif­i­cant check against his regime.

Trump cel­e­brated his skill as a deal­maker af­ter Tues­day’s sum­mit: “That’s what I do. My whole life has been deals, I’ve done great at it.” But more strik­ing was this lat­est demon­stra­tion of his call­ing as a re­al­ity-tele­vi­sion star, with a born ac­tor’s flair for the dra­matic and a self­mes­mer­iz­ing abil­ity to speak every line, how­ever du­bi­ous, as if it were true.

Maybe this is “The Ap­pren­tice: Korean Dic­ta­tor Edi­tion,” in which Trump is the men­tor for an up-and-com­ing “big guy.” Watch­ing the clasped el­bows and back pats, you could al­most for­get that Kim had killed an un­cle and a half-brother on the way to Sin­ga­pore. Trump ex­plained his re­spect for “any­body that takes over a sit­u­a­tion like he did at 26 years of age and is able to run it and run it tough.” Kim, you’re hired!

I don’t mean to min­i­mize the sum­mit’s po­ten­tial ben­e­fit for the world. The world is safer than it was a week ago, and Trump is get­ting some de­served global ap­plause.

But we should see the Sin­ga­pore meet­ing for what it is: Kim set this ball rolling five years ago, with a lit­tle-no­ticed call for “de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula” and “high-level talks” with the U.S.

Since then, Kim has deftly ma­neu­vered the twists and turns – de­fy­ing a threat of “fire and fury” oblit­er­a­tion from Trump last year to com­plete devel­op­ment of a nu­clear-tipped mis­sile that could threaten Amer­ica. Once Kim had ob­tained this ca­pa­bil­ity in Novem­ber, he be­gan to pivot to­ward ne­go­ti­a­tions.

It was a breath­tak­ing piece of mu­tual au­dac­ity for Kim and Trump to push each other to the edge of the cliff and then walk back. But by Tues­day, it was clear that Kim was get­ting more than he was giv­ing, and that Trump wanted the sum­mit so badly that he was pre­pared to swal­low some of his ear­lier de­mands. This seems like the sort of deal – open­ing the door for Py­ongyang in ex­change for unan­chored prom­ises – that na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton has been warn­ing about for 25 years.

I think Trump is right in bet­ting that Amer­i­can-led mod­ern­iza­tion and eco­nomic growth will, over time, bring po­lit­i­cal changes that can di­min­ish a po­ten­tial nu­clear threat to Amer­ica and its al­lies. But I won­der: Does it oc­cur to Trump that this is pre­cisely the bet that Pres­i­dent Obama made with the Iran nu­clear agree­ment, aka (in Trump-speak) “the worst deal ever made”? The main dif­fer­ence is that Obama got a real, ver­i­fi­able com­mit­ment to de­stroy Iran’s nu­clear stock­pile be­fore mak­ing any ma­jor Amer­i­can con­ces­sions.

A fi­nal, as­ton­ish­ing as­pect of Tues­day’s sum­mit was Trump’s gra­tu­itous swipe at South Korea, a faith­ful demo­cratic ally. I don’t just mean Trump’s sud­den de­ci­sion to shelve “provoca­tive” U.S.-South Korean mil­i­tary ex­er­cises; Amer­ica still has plenty of mil­i­tary power nearby, if needed. And let’s even ac­cept Trump’s in­sis­tence that “at some point” Amer­ica should re­move its roughly 30,000 troops – even though their pres­ence re­as­sures South Korea, Japan and even China.

No, the truly amaz­ing Trump in­sult was to sug­gest that Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in made his bold open­ing to Kim to re­duce a threat to the Pyeongchang Olympics and thereby make money. “They weren’t ex­actly sell­ing tick­ets,” Trump said at Tues­day’s news con­fer­ence. “It sold like wild­fire” af­ter North Korea agreed to par­tic­i­pate, said Trump, ever the crass mer­chan­diser.

Diplo­macy isn’t al­ways pretty. Du­bi­ous peo­ple some­times do very good things. So let’s cel­e­brate Trump’s suc­cess in Sin­ga­pore, and hope that some­one can trans­late Pres­i­dent Rea­gan’s in­junc­tion to “trust but ver­ify” into Korean.

David Ig­natius is pub­lished twice weekly by THE DAILY STAR.

Kim has ob­tained a pledge that the U.S. will halt mil­i­tary ex­er­cises

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