Trump eyes peace prize. Ma­hathir pledges to par­don An­war. Can­berra’s spy wars.

The Saturday Paper - - Contents - Hamish McDon­ald

So a No­bel Peace Prize for Don­ald Trump? South Korea’s pres­i­dent, Moon Jae-in, thinks so. Our own

Julie Bishop thinks Trump de­serves the credit for bring­ing Moon to­gether with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un in a blaze of bon­homie eight days ago in the de­mil­i­tarised zone.

Such things have hap­pened be­fore. Henry Kissinger got the 1973 prize along with Viet­nam’s Le Duc Tho for the Paris Peace Ac­cords, de­spite work­ing for a pres­i­dent who had in­ter­fered with ne­go­ti­a­tions to help his elec­tion and stepped up bombing of North Viet­nam the Christ­mas be­fore to bring things to a con­clu­sion.

At least so far Trump hasn’t un­leashed the “fire and fury” he was promis­ing Kim last year. And in three or four weeks from now he’s mov­ing into a show­piece sum­mit of his own, meet­ing Kim. Trump favours the DMZ as the lo­ca­tion – the Cold War the­atrics would be amaz­ing.

He feels he’s in con­trol of the process, un­like his pre­de­ces­sors in the White House. “The United States has been played beau­ti­fully, like a fid­dle, be­cause you had a dif­fer­ent kind of a leader,” Trump said. “We’re not go­ing to be played, okay? We’re go­ing to hope­fully make a deal; if we don’t, that’s fine.”

So far, most Korea spe­cial­ists think Kim is play­ing Trump adroitly in com­pet­i­tive brinkman­ship. All events this year flow from Kim’s move last year to step up test­ing of nu­clear war­heads and long-range mis­siles with the aim of achiev­ing ca­pa­bil­ity to strike the US main­land. With Trump hold­ing back from pre-emp­tive strikes, Kim flicked the switch back to diplo­macy at New Year.

There is short-term pain for North Korea, in the shape of sanc­tions joined by China. But Kim’s elite and mil­i­tary have buf­fer stocks, and his pop­u­la­tion has no power to com­plain. The eco­nomic squeeze will be harder to keep up with Kim so friendly. Al­ready Moon is talk­ing about re­open­ing trans­port links. China’s for­eign min­is­ter, Wang Yi, was in Py­ongyang on Wed­nes­day.

In re­turn, Kim has yielded noth­ing much, be­yond will­ing­ness to talk about com­plete “de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion” of the Korean penin­sula, tim­ing and ex­tent not spec­i­fied.

Trump reads far too much into this. Ac­cord­ing to the South Kore­ans, he wants dis­ar­ma­ment com­pleted by the end of his cur­rent term, in early 2021.

His new sec­re­tary of state, Mike Pom­peo, in­sists Kim will have to out­line “com­plete, ver­i­fi­able and ir­re­versible” dis­man­tling of his nu­clear ca­pa­bil­i­ties at the meet­ing with Trump. His new na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, John Bolton, se­ri­ously says “we’re look­ing at the Libya model”, not men­tion­ing where that left Muam­mar Gaddafi.

Per­haps these ad­vis­ers want Kim to be ex­posed as a bluffer try­ing to buy time and sanc­tions re­lief, so they can get back to sabre-rat­tling. But that could be hard in the dé­tente the South Kore­ans have achieved. They can’t be sure Trump will stick to the script, ei­ther. NBC re­ports two White House staffers said Trump’s chief of staff, re­tired gen­eral John Kelly, had to re­strain the pres­i­dent in Fe­bru­ary from or­der­ing im­me­di­ate with­drawal of the US gar­ri­son in South Korea.

Kim is mean­while get­ting the recog­ni­tion he craves as leader of a de facto nu­clear power: meet­ings with China’s Xi Jin­ping, South Korea’s Moon and soon the US pres­i­dent, who calls the man who had his own half-brother mur­dered with nerveagent just over a year ago “very hon­ourable”.

Waiver­ing sup­port

Trump was keep­ing every­one guess­ing about whether he in­tends to ex­tend the US sanc­tions waiver on Iran con­nected to the nu­clear re­straint agree­ment reached in 2015, which re­versed Tehran’s progress to­wards weapons ca­pa­bil­ity. He dis­misses sugges­tions that back­ing out of the Iran deal might bring into ques­tion any pledges he makes to Kim.

Three of the other sig­na­to­ries – Bri­tain, France and Ger­many – agreed last Sun­day that the agree­ment was the best way to stop Iran get­ting nu­clear weapons. In a rare de­par­ture from his “joined at the hip” mode with Wash­ing­ton, Mal­colm Turn­bull agreed this was the case with the vis­it­ing French pres­i­dent, Em­manuel Macron. The In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency and the US State Depart­ment both cer­ti­fied last month that Iran was com­ply­ing with its terms.

Not so Is­rael’s Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu. On Mon­day he mounted a spe­cial event, stand­ing in front of a gi­ant sign read­ing “Iran lied”, and read­ing from doc­u­ments he said Mos­sad agents had stolen in Jan­uary from a se­cret repos­i­tory in Tehran, show­ing Iran had been work­ing on de­vel­op­ing nu­clear weapons while deny­ing it. Ne­tanyahu had an au­di­ence of one in mind. The sanc­tion waiver ex­pires next Satur­day.

Par­don, Ma­hathir?

Malaysia’s Na­jib Razak is tak­ing no chances in the gen­eral elec­tions on Wed­nes­day, with of­fi­cials dou­bling down on re­stric­tions to ham­per op­po­si­tion to his Barisan Na­sional coali­tion and en­sure a ma­jor­ity suf­fi­cient for Na­jib to stay in the lead­er­ship of its main ele­ment, the United Malays Na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tion.

On top of the in­ten­si­fied ger­ry­man­der­ing we’ve al­ready re­ported, which the­o­ret­i­cally al­lows the BN to win with 16.5 per cent of the vote, the elec­toral com­mis­sion has knocked out sev­eral op­po­si­tion can­di­dates on du­bi­ous grounds, and barred can­di­dates from cam­paign­ing other than in their own elec­torates, or from dis­play­ing them­selves with any­one but their own party lead­ers on posters.

A lot of this is de­signed to stop for­mer prime min­is­ter Ma­hathir Mo­hamad, still ac­tive at 92, from em­ploy­ing his ap­peal among eth­nic Malays more widely. In a sentimental video posted on YouTube, Ma­hathir prom­ises to use his re­main­ing time on Earth to help clean up Malaysian pol­i­tics. He’s also said that if re­turned to power he will par­don his for­mer deputy, An­war Ibrahim, cur­rently jailed for sodomy, and step aside for him.

All very noble, if it’s for­got­ten that Ma­hathir started the pro-Malay gravy train that Na­jib has so egre­giously ex­ploited, and first em­ployed a sodomy charge to knock out An­war from chal­leng­ing his lead­er­ship in 1998. But it’s also aca­demic, given the rig­ging of the elec­tion. Can­berra seems to have turned down an in­vi­ta­tion to send ob­servers to this farce.

Home spies

Ear­lier this year we re­ported how the de­fence forces had cre­ated a new sig­nals in­tel­li­gence and cy­ber com­mand to en­sure sup­port for mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions re­mains top pri­or­ity for the Aus­tralian Sig­nals Direc­torate, long our key player in the “Five Eyes” in­tel­li­gence pact with the US, Bri­tain, Canada and New Zealand.

A con­test to di­vert ASD ca­pa­bil­i­ties to civil­ian law en­force­ment is deep­en­ing, with last week­end’s leak to the Syd­ney Sun­day Tele­graph of cor­re­spon­dence be­tween Greg Mo­ri­arty, the De­fence Depart­ment head, and Mike Pez­zullo, the head of the new Home Af­fairs Depart­ment. It’s erupted into open snip­ing be­tween For­eign Min­is­ter Julie Bishop, who thinks it dan­ger­ous and not needed, and Home Af­fairs Min­is­ter Peter Dut­ton, who thinks it a great idea.

Bishop is bat­tling on other fronts. On Mon­day, for­mer Aus­tralian am­bas­sador Ge­off Raby said a “se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment” – com­pris­ing the De­fence and prime min­is­ter’s de­part­ments, the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, and al­lied think tanks – had de­cided the China re­la­tion­ship is too im­por­tant to trust to the Depart­ment of For­eign Af­fairs and Trade.

“The for­eign min­is­ter’s, and hence her depart­ment’s role in man­ag­ing this crit­i­cal re­la­tion­ship has be­come in­con­se­quen­tial,” Raby wrote on the Pearls and Ir­ri­ta­tions web­site. “To try to play her­self back into the Can­berra– China game, the for­eign min­is­ter gave a bizarre speech, writ­ten by her of­fice, in Sin­ga­pore last year in which she de­clared China to be un­fit for re­gional lead­er­ship be­cause it was not ‘demo­cratic’. The depart­ment did not see the fi­nal text un­til it was de­liv­ered. Part of the prob­lem for DFAT is that their min­is­ter is not trusted

• by the prime min­is­ter.”

Kim Jong-un (left) and Moon Jae-in at a sign­ing cer­e­mony in Pan­munjom last week.

HAMISH McDON­ALD is The Satur­day Pa­per’s world edi­tor.

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