Trump, Kim tAlk the sAme lAn­guAge At sum­mit


Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - Tim STan­ley in Sin­ga­pore

Trust Don­ald Trump to snatch com­edy from the jaws of vic­tory. After a care­fully chore­ographed sum­mit, the U.S. pres­i­dent threw a press con­fer­ence, de­clared he hadn’t slept for 25 hours and launched into an ex­hil­a­rat­ing dia­logue about North Korea’s potential for real es­tate.

“They have great beaches,” he noted, some­thing he’d ob­served when watch­ing them fire can­nons into the ocean. “I said, ‘Boy look at that view. Wouldn’t that make a great condo?’”

It’s a slightly mad thing to think, but as one lo­cal jour­nal­ist said: “It takes a mad man to do what Trump has done.”

This at­tempt to build a new, per­ma­nent re­la­tion­ship with North Korea, based largely on the word of a dic­ta­tor, is an un­ortho­dox gamble, but it might pay off. It ex­ploits well the needs and van­i­ties of its main play­ers.

It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that North Korea has only come to the ta­ble be­cause it has de­cided it is ready and will­ing. Its nu­clear pro­gram has reached a point where it feels se­cure enough to play it as a bar­gain­ing chip, and so it was Kim Jong Un — des­per­ate for in­vest­ment in his iso­lated kingdom — who in­vited Trump to meet, not the other way around. Trump’s rad­i­cal move was to ac­cept.

Nor­mally, such events come at the end of a long ne­go­ti­a­tion process (if at all), so Trump’s agree­ment to meet faceto-face at the out­set has proven trans­for­ma­tive — in three crit­i­cal ways.

First, it tempted Kim out into the open. As far as we know, he rarely trav­els abroad, and yet there he was, wad­dling about the streets of Sin­ga­pore, tak­ing selfies with politi­cians, cheered on by lo­cals.

Yes, he’s very strange, with his hair cut as if for surgery. But now he is much bet­ter in­te­grated into re­gional pol­i­tics, and lov­ing the le­git­i­macy the sum­mit has given him.

Sec­ond, we mustn’t un­der­es­ti­mate the im­pact the talks could have in Kim’s home coun­try. North Ko­re­ans are raised to be­lieve that Amer­i­cans dev­as­tated their home­land dur­ing the Korean War and would love to try again. So, it’s no won­der that news of the meet­ing ap­pears to have been scant in the her­mit kingdom (dur­ing Trump’s press con­fer­ence, tele­vi­sion view­ers were treated to a car­toon about road safety and a mu­si­cal about min­ers).

But once full de­tails emerge, it will surely have an im­pact. A red line has been crossed.

Third, the hu­man en­counter be­tween Trump and Kim — in­clud­ing a pri­vate meet­ing with only their trans­la­tors present — means both men are per­son­ally in­vested in the suc­cess of the process they be­gan.

Com­men­ta­tors are ask­ing why Kim should trust the pres­i­dent given that he tore up agree­ments on Iran and the en­vi­ron­ment. The sim­ple an­swer is that Trump didn’t write those deals, so feels no own­er­ship of them.

Peace for the Korean Penin­sula, by con­trast, was an in­ter­est of his long be­fore he sought the pres­i­dency, and it smacks of some­thing his ef­fort to build a wall on the Mex­ico bor­der lacks: the potential for suc­cess, even for a legacy.

The chal­lenge is nail­ing down Kim on specifics.

The com­mu­niqué they signed con­tains the quid pro quo of Korean de­nu­cle­ariza­tion in ex­change for U.S. se­cu­rity guar­an­tees. Trump’s first com­pro­mise was to end U.S.-South Korean war games he’d de­scribed as a waste of money. What will Kim do and how will it be ver­i­fied?


Crit­ics of Trump are wor­ried that all he’s done is hand a pro­pa­ganda coup to Kim in ex­change for things Py­ongyang has promised be­fore but never de­liv­ered — all while the regime im­pris­ons and starves its peo­ple. Surely, Kim has proven not that dia­logue de­liv­ers re­sults but that nu­clear weapons get at­ten­tion?

Trump says we should trust him and that change will come be­cause he and Kim want it — and the pol­i­tics of hon­our and rec­i­proc­ity do count for a lot in East Asia. This re­gion is full of strong men who put busi­ness growth be­fore democ­racy, and Trump’s propo­si­tion — give up your nukes and we won’t try to de­throne you — of­fers a re­set of re­la­tions that any dic­ta­tor can com­pre­hend.

While liberals want to talk gen­der equal­ity and re­cy­cling at the G7, the North Ko­re­ans are in­deed think­ing in terms of turn­ing can­nons into con­dos. In Kim, Trump has met some­one who un­der­stands the art of a lu­cra­tive deal.


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump have pens in hand as doc­u­ments are ex­changed be­tween Kim’s sis­ter, Kim Yo Jong, and U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo at a sign­ing cer­e­mony dur­ing their historic sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore on Tues­day.


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