Trump faces tough­est test yet in NKorea sum­mit

Starkville Daily News - - FORUM -

SIN­GA­PORE (AP) — Em­bark­ing on a self-de­scribed “mis­sion of peace,” Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s seat-of-thep­ants for­eign pol­icy is fac­ing its tough­est test yet as he at­tempts this week to per­son­ally bro­ker an end to North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gram with Kim Jong Un.

The im­pul­sive Amer­i­can pres­i­dent, who just days ear­lier called into doubt a pil­lar of the Western al­liance, is set to face his match on the global stage as he pre­pares to meet Kim in Sin­ga­pore. In the his­toric first meet­ing be­tween the lead­ers of the tech­ni­cally-still-war­ring na­tions, Trump is pri­or­i­tiz­ing in­stinct over plan­ning. Un­like tra­di­tional sum­mits be­tween heads of state, where most of the work is com­pleted in ad­vance of a photo-op, U.S. of­fi­cials say the only thing cer­tain ahead of these talks will be their un­pre­dictabil­ity.

Ever since Trump shocked al­lies, White House of­fi­cials, and, by some ac­counts, the North Kore­ans them­selves when he ac­cepted Kim’s March in­vi­ta­tion for a meet­ing, the two lead­ers have lurched to­ward an un­cer­tain en­counter that may well de­ter­mine the fate of mil­lions.

“It’s un­known ter­ri­tory in the truest sense, but I re­ally feel con­fi­dent,” Trump told re­porters Satur­day. “I feel that Kim Jong Un wants to do some­thing great for his peo­ple and he has that op­por­tu­nity and he won’t have that op­por­tu­nity again.”

Trump’s en­gage­ment with Kim ful­fills the North Korean rul­ing fam­ily’s long-un­re­quited yearn­ing for in­ter­na­tional le­git­i­macy, it­self a sub­stan­tial con­ces­sion that could weaken more than a gen­er­a­tion of U.S. ef­forts to iso­late the coun­try on the global stage.

“It’s never been done be­fore,” Trump said Satur­day. “And ob­vi­ously, what has been done be­fore hasn’t worked.”

A tri­umvi­rate of forces is bring­ing the meet­ing to fruition, said Scott Sny­der, Se­nior Fel­low for Korea Stud­ies and Di­rec­tor of the Pro­gram on U.S.-Korea Pol­icy at the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions, de­scrib­ing the sum­mit as “Pro­duced by Kim, di­rected by (South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in), and in­spired by Trump.”

The hard-hit­ting sanc­tions and de­sire for le­git­i­macy brought the youth­ful Kim to the ta­ble. The South Korean leader’s ef­forts to avert a po­ten­tially catas­trophic U.S. first strike pushed both lead­ers to take a risk. And Trump is the first U.S. pres­i­dent will­ing to sit-down with the au­to­cratic ruler with so few con­ces­sions, be­liev­ing his self-pro­fessed ne­go­ti­at­ing prow­ess will guide him though un­charted diplo­matic wa­ters.

Rais­ing ex­pec­ta­tions in ad­vance of the meet­ing, Trump said the out­come will rely heav­ily on his own in­stincts. The U.S. pres­i­dent, who prides him­self on his deal-mak­ing prow­ess, said he will know “within the first minute” of meet­ing Kim whether the North Korean leader is se­ri­ous about the nu­clear ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“I think I’ll know pretty quickly whether or not, in my opin­ion, some­thing pos­i­tive will hap­pen. And if I think it won’t hap­pen, I’m not go­ing to waste my time. I don’t want to waste his time,” Trump said.

“This is a leader who re­ally is an un­known per­son­al­ity,” Trump added of Kim. “Peo­ple don’t know much about him. I think that he’s go­ing to sur­prise on the up­side, very much on the up­side.”

White House aides de­scribed Trump in the days af­ter re­ceiv­ing the ini­tial Kim in­vi­ta­tion as be­ing ob­sessed by vi­sions of win­ning the No­bel Peace Prize and us­ing ‘The Art of the Deal’ to put his mark on the global or­der. In re­cent weeks Trump’s en­thu­si­asm has been tem­pered some­what by the chal­lenge of deal-mak­ing with such an un­pre­dictable op­po­nent. And there are wor­ries from the White House to East Asian al­lies that Trump’s de­sire for an agree­ment will lead him to ac­cept any deal — even if it’s a bad one.

Trump is set to dan­gle be­fore Kim vi­sions of pro­tec­tion, eco­nomic in­vest­ment, and even a White House visit, in re­turn for a com­mit­ment to aban­don his nu­clear weapons pro­gram. Kim, U.S. of­fi­cials say, has agreed to put his stock­pile of a half-hun­dred or more weapons on the ta­ble for ne­go­ti­a­tion, but the two coun­tries have of­fered dif­fer­ing vi­sions of what that would en­tail. De­spite Kim’s ap­par­ent ea­ger­ness for a sum­mit with Trump, there are doubts that he would fully re­lin­quish his nu­clear ar­se­nal, which he may see as his guar­an­tor of his sur­vival.

U.S. de­fense and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials have as­sessed the North to be on the thresh­old of hav­ing the ca­pa­bil­ity to strike any­where in the con­ti­nen­tal U.S. with a nu­clear-tipped mis­sile — a ca­pac­ity that Trump and other U.S. of­fi­cials have said they would not tol­er­ate.

Trump re­it­er­ated his prom­ise Satur­day that the U.S. “will watch over and we’ll pro­tect” Kim and his government in re­turn for him giv­ing up the nu­clear pro­gram.

Trav­el­ing to Sin­ga­pore, Trump is look­ing to tem­po­rar­ily es­cape his flar­ing per­sonal con­flicts with key U.S. al­lies over trade as well as do­mes­tic pres­sure like the swirling Rus­sia probe. Acutely aware of his cov­er­age in the me­dia, Trump has en­joyed how North Korea has over­shad­owed some of the more neg­a­tive cov­er­age of his tu­mul­tuous White House.

Still, Trump’s team has not al­ways been on the same page, with Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo — who has been lead­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts — more sup­port­ive, while the hawk­ish Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser John Bolton has been more skep­ti­cal. Bolton has been far less vis­i­ble in the plan­ning process, af­ter a com­ment he made about fa­vor­ing the “Libya model” for de­nu­cle­ariza­tion en­raged the North Kore­ans.

Libya gave up its pro­gram at an early stage only to see its long­time dic­ta­tor over­thrown and bru­tally killed years less than a decade later.

The sum­mit tim­ing, days af­ter Trump left a trail of diplo­matic wreck­age as he ex­ited the an­nual Group of Seven na­tions Satur­day, cast fur­ther light on the ex­tent to which he in­creas­ingly keeps his own coun­sel, es­chew­ing the cau­tion­ary ad­vice of aides and con­fi­dent in his abil­ity to sin­gle-hand­edly at­tempt to re­draw the global or­der.

In Canada, the U.S. pres­i­dent threat­ened long­time al­lies over trade prac­tices at a de­fi­ant exit press con­fer­ence be­fore dra­mat­i­cally tweet­ing that host Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau was “weak” and with­draw­ing his en­dorse­ment of the group’s tra­di­tional joint com­mu­nique.

“His mes­sage from Quebec to Sin­ga­pore is that he is go­ing to meld the in­dus­trial democ­ra­cies to his will — and bring back Rus­sia,” said Steve Ban­non, Trump’s for­mer cam­paign and White House ad­viser.

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