Crit­ics fear ten­dency for made-for-TV mo­ments could

The New Zealand Herald - - World - David Naka­mura anal­y­sis

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s strat­egy on North Korea has played out in full pub­lic view over 16 months with dra­matic, made-for-TV mo­ments de­signed to fo­cus global at­ten­tion on his risky faceoff with dic­ta­tor Kim Jong Un.

But as North Korean of­fi­cials abruptly cast doubt this week on Trump’s planned his­toric sum­mit with Kim in Sin­ga­pore next month, crit­ics fear that a pres­i­dent de­ter­mined to de­clare vic­tory where his pre­de­ces­sors failed will al­low his de­sire for a legacy-mak­ing deal to override the sub­stance of the ne­go­ti­a­tions.

In the so­cial me­dia era, Trump’s pub­lic show­man­ship is “cre­at­ing a huge buzz where ev­ery­one wants to know what’s go­ing on and what comes next”, said Jung Pak, a for­mer CIA of­fi­cial who is now an Asia an­a­lyst at Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion. “It’s a very dra­matic way of con­duct­ing for­eign pol­icy and na­tional se­cu­rity. But it cre­ates a thin ve­neer of un­der­stand­ing. It’s mostly about sym­bol­ism.”

The risks in­volved in Trump’s ap­proach were un­der­scored this week when a top North Korean of­fi­cial threat­ened to can­cel the sum­mit and lam­basted na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton over his hard­line dec­la­ra­tion that Py­ongyang must fully re­lin­quish its nu­clear weapons be­fore the United States of­fers re­cip­ro­cal ben­e­fits.

Trump has in­vested sig­nif­i­cant po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal in the sum­mit and a no-show by Kim would be a ma­jor em­bar­rass­ment. Per­haps fear­ful of fur­ther alien­at­ing the North Korean leader, Trump re­acted with un­char­ac­ter­is­tic re­straint, of­fer­ing a vague, “We’ll see what hap­pens.” Trump re­sponded “yes” when a re­porter asked if he would still in­sist that the North de­nu­cle­arise.

Trump has vowed to walk away with­out a deal if the talks aren’t fruit­ful. But for­eign pol­icy an­a­lysts have in­ter­preted con­flict­ing state­ments from Bolton and Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo as a sign that the Ad­min­is­tra­tion might be will­ing to set­tle for a nar­rower agree­ment, such as the elim­i­na­tion of bal­lis­tic mis­siles ca­pa­ble of strik­ing the US.

Asked about Bolton’s dec­la­ra­tion that North Korea must fol­low the “Libya model” from 2004 and quickly aban­don its nu­clear pro­gramme, which Py­ongyang blames for the over­throw of leader Muam­mar Gaddafi, White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders sug­gested he was free­lanc­ing.

Democrats and for­eign pol­icy an­a­lysts also have ex­pressed alarm at Trump’s sharp rhetor­i­cal shift to­ward Kim. Hav­ing mocked him last year as a “mad­man”, Trump has soft­ened his tone and cast the au­thor­i­tar­ian leader as an hon­est bro­ker.

Af­ter Kim met South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae In at the de­mil­i­tarised zone in April, Trump said Kim had been “very open and I think very hon­ourable based on what we’re see­ing”. Last week, stand­ing on the tar­mac at Joint Base An­drews with three Amer­i­cans who had been im­pris­oned in North Korea for more than a year, Trump told re­porters that Kim “re­ally was ex­cel­lent” to the three men in

Pres­i­dent Trump has forged a new cat­e­gory of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions that I would call diplotain­ment, and the Sin­ga­pore meet­ing is go­ing to demon­strate diplotain­ment at its pin­na­cle. Daniel Rus­sel

al­low­ing them to leave.

“The Pres­i­dent’s rhetoric has re­flected Kim Jong Un’s ac­tions,” deputy White House press sec­re­tary Raj Shah said. “Kim Jong Un has stepped for­ward and made pledges to halt nu­clear tests, halt ICBM tests,

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