Trump’s mo­men­tum will be hard for him to con­tain

Journal Pioneer - - EDITORIAL - Thomas Walkom Thomas Walkom is a Toronto-based colum­nist cov­er­ing pol­i­tics. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @tomwalkom

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has be­gun a rap­proche­ment with North Korea that he will find dif­fi­cult to re­verse. The fi­nal com­mu­niquè from Tues­day’s sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore be­tween Trump and North Korean dic­ta­tor Kim Jong Un pro­duced few sub­stan­tial gains for the U.S. In par­tic­u­lar, it re­peats the vague language Kim has used be­fore, com­mit­ting North Korea only to “work to­ward the com­plete de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula.” Ex­actly what Kim means by “com­plete de­nu­cle­ariza­tion” is not clear. In the past, North Korea has ar­gued that it would give up its atomic weapons only if the U.S. agreed to re­move its nu­clear pro­tec­tion from South Korea and Ja­pan in re­turn. The Sin­ga­pore com­mu­niquè also makes spe­cific ref­er­ence to the April 27 Pan­munjon agree­ment be­tween North and South Korea. In that dec­la­ra­tion, Pyongyang agreed to de­nu­cle­ariza­tion in the con­text of a wide-rang­ing peace treaty be­tween the two Koreas that in­volved eco­nomic as well as po­lit­i­cal co-op­er­a­tion. Trump has said he’ll change tack and get ag­gres­sive again if Kim fails to do what he wants. Af­ter Sin­ga­pore, he may have a rough time per­suad­ing the rest of the world to play along. For what the Sin­ga­pore sum­mit did was demon­strate that Kim is not nuts. As Trump said, re­spond­ing to re­porters’ ques­tions about the dic­ta­tor’s abysmal hu­man rights record, Kim may not be “nice.” But he’s se­ri­ous leader who runs a coun­try with se­ri­ous na­tional in­ter­ests. In Sin­ga­pore, he met the leader of the world’s most pow­er­ful na­tion as an equal. The most com­pelling im­age from the sum­mit was the back­ground of in­ter­twined U.S. and North Korean flags. Af­ter Sin­ga­pore, the U.S. will find it more dif­fi­cult to per­suade the rest of the world to main­tain pun­ish­ing eco­nomic sanc­tions against the now ever-so-rea­son­able North. As Trump told re­porters, China is al­ready eas­ing its sanc­tions. Rus­sia is ques­tion­ing its util­ity and some in South Korea are do­ing the same. The April 27 Pan­munjon agree­ment on eco­nomic co-op­er­a­tion signed by Kim and South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in can work prop­erly only if Seoul drops its sanc­tions against Pyongyang. In many ways, the Sin­ga­pore sum­mit was clas­sic Trumpery. The U.S. pres­i­dent was ex­trav­a­gant in his praise for Kim, whom he called “very tal­ented,” and even more ex­trav­a­gant in his praise for him­self. Asked how he could be as­sured Kim would keep his word, Trump said he just knew. “I know when some­one wants to deal,” he told re­porters. “I just feel it very strongly.” He said he told the dic­ta­tor that North Korea had “great beaches” that could be prime can­di­dates for real es­tate de­vel­op­ment. And with­out in­form­ing South Korea, he uni­lat­er­ally called off the war games that Seoul and Wash­ing­ton have been con­duct­ing close to the North Korean border, not­ing that Pyongyang had found them “very provoca­tive.” Still, the of­ten er­ratic U.S. pres­i­dent did the world a favour by meet­ing and, to a cer­tain ex­tent, be­ing se­duced by Kim. The Sin­ga­pore dec­la­ra­tion com­mits the two coun­tries to work to­ward build­ing a “last­ing and sta­ble peace regime on the Korean Penin­sula.” That means sign­ing a peace treaty to for­mally end the 1950-53 Korean War. South Korea’s Moon got it right with his re­ac­tion to the sum­mit. In a state­ment, he said the Sin­ga­pore dec­la­ra­tion “will be re­garded as a his­toric event that has helped break down the last re­main­ing Cold War le­gacy on Earth.” “We will be there to­gether with North Korea along the way.” Trump has cre­ated a mo­men­tum here that he will find dif­fi­cult to con­tain. The two Koreas were al­ready bar­relling to­ward peace. By meet­ing Kim, the U.S. pres­i­dent has given them his bless­ing. He might change his mind about the North Korean leader, just as he did about Canada’s Justin Trudeau. But will the rest of the world fall into line be­hind Trump if he starts talk­ing once more about un­leash­ing fire and fury against this coun­try of atomic weapons and nice beaches? I’m not sure it will.

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