The uncertainty, fear, and hope of the Trump-Kim summit

With Tuesday’s historic summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un upon us, it remains utterly unclear what they will be talking about, what can be achieved, and whether any of it will be worthwhile. Is the summit, as the president said on Saturday, a “one-time shot” to resolve disagreements between the U.S. and the DPRK? Or is it, as President Trump said just last week, a “getting to know you meeting” that can be followed by a series of confidence-building measures and follow-ups by lower level officials?

As usual, President Trump’s wildly contradictory statements offer few clues as to what will actually transpire this week in Southeast Asia.

Whatever the parameters, Trump, Un, and their entourages will meet on Tuesday on a Singapore atoll once known as “The Island Where Death Lurks Behind.” It could be one of history’s shortest summits. On Saturday, the president claimed that “I think within the first minute, I’ll know” whether his counterpart is interested in a deal and able to deliver one. There will definitely be no weeks-long display of failed cajoling and hand-holding of the sort that took place at President Bill Clinton’s last-ditch attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at Camp David in 2000. Assuming that they too share a “dragon energy,” Trump is hoping that Kim will quickly agree to trade away his nuclear weapons stash for diplomatic normalization, sanctions relief, and an economic opening to the outside world.

Such an outcome, which would have been regarded as shocking as little as six months ago, is still only plausible if you believe that Kim Jong Un has made a sudden decision to turn his hermetically sealed tyranny into a miniature China — still a rigidly authoritarian realm but one that plays by the normal rules of world politics and opens itself up to outside influence, capital, and most importantly, inspectors from the IAEA. More likely, Kim hopes to get the president to agree to loosen economic restrictions and evacuate American troops from South Korea in exchange for, perhaps, dismantling North Korea’s ballistic missile program and a freeze on weapons testing. This is the outcome most feared by America’s allies in Seoul and Tokyo. Given the recent fates of non-nuclear regimes in Libya and Iraq and America’s blasé destruction of the Iran deal, it is still more likely than not that Kim is determined to hang onto his nukes.

The Trump administration set the bar very high when it walked away from the painstakingly negotiated Iran deal in May. If Singapore is to result in an agreement consistent with the administration’s Iran policy, it will have to be one without the JCPOA’s much-critiqued sunset provisions and it will have to, at minimum, deal with North Korea’s ties to international terrorism, the nuclear black market, and the country’s horrific treatment of its own citizens.

This is the tune being sung by what passes for normal institutions in official Washington. Last week, Secretary of State Mike …read more

Source:: The Week – World


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