- 24 мая, 03:19
- POLITICO. Top Stories
The Nobel committee will presumably be disappointed, but President Donald Trump should cancel his planned June 12 summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
The meeting is much more likely to serve Kim’s interests rather than ours and could well begin the unraveling of the pressure campaign that is our most reliable point of leverage against the regime. There is every reason for Kim to want a superficially successful summit in Singapore, and the easiest way to deny him one is to call the whole thing off.
The past week has shown that the North Koreans aren’t to be underestimated—something that is easy to forget because the regime is not just heinous and evil, but ridiculous. Pyongyang managed to wrap the president around the axle on “the Libyan model” and got him to go wobbly on rapid and complete denuclearization with just a few pointed statements.
The Hermit Kingdom can barely feed its people and can’t keep its lights on, but it is good at this. Its existence literally depends on its shrewd diplomatic gamesmanship with the West, winning concessions that give it an economic lifeline while still preserving and advancing its weapons systems.
Trump deserves credit for tightening a sanctions regime with considerable slack in it and intimidating Kim with his battery of insults and bombast. But the president was pushing on an open door: If history is any guide, the North wanted to use its bout of missile tests to get back to the negotiating table, and so it has.
While Trump imagines himself doing what no president has before—solving the conflict on the Korean Peninsula — the North Koreans believe they can get Trump to do what other presidents have done before—give it a favorable deal in the hopes of solving the conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
Although the North Koreans surely worry about the “madman” theory of Trump, they also must consider him in some respects an easy mark. His weakness is obviously his susceptibility to flattery and his self image as the world’s best deal-maker. Throw in an allergy to details and the North Koreans have plenty of material to work with.
Their threat to pull out of the summit was clearly meant to exploit Trump’s eagerness for the meeting, demonstrated by his premature boastfulness. And they’ve had early success in starting a negotiation over a negotiation that pushed Trump to, at least momentarily, soften the core U.S. demand of swift denuclearization.
The president has attempted to prove that he doesn’t want the meeting more than Kim by saying that the summit isn’t guaranteed, but calling it off would render what was supposed to be a prospective signature foreign policy triumph a complete fizzle.
This is a testament to the shrewdness of the North Koreans—something that wasn’t imaginable a few months ago, a face-to-face meeting between the president of the United States and the Supreme Leader, would now be painful for Trump to give up.
For their part, the North Koreans almost certainly want the summit. If nothing else, it’s a prestige boost to Kim. And then there’s possible strategic benefits of a good meeting. Kim will have every incentive to be deferential to Trump and tell him what he wants to hear in the hopes of a warm embrace and encouraging words at summit’s end.
It’s possible to imagine Kim going further and making a theatrical gesture. What if he immediately agrees to decommission a handful of nuclear weapons and ship them to the United States in a mediagenic sign of his alleged good faith? A sweeping tide of favorable international news coverage of the historic meeting would make holding the line on sanctions difficult to impossible.
South Korea would push to send humanitarian relief to the North and begin economic projects with Pyongyang, on the strength of the supposed breakthrough. We would be hard-pressed to deny the South, and then the policy of maximum pressure would be on the way to steadily loosening pressure. If this isn’t their goal, the North Koreans have learned nothing from the past 30 years.
Of course, superficial success isn’t the only possible outcome in Singapore. The summit could make sense if Trump decides to use it to highlight the treachery and oppressiveness of the North Korean regime. Such a meeting could be a useful exercise in coercive diplomacy, but would have to be considered as another step in a campaign of escalating pressure rather than the forum for an instantly transformed relationship with the North.
Such an approach would carry its own risks if the U.S. takes the blame for the perceived failure of the meeting. So why go to Singapore in the first place?
There’s always the very remote chance that the North is willing to give up its nuclear weapons. If so, let the North Koreans demonstrate their good faith and their new strategic orientation during a year or so of low-level talks building up to a high-profile meeting. In the meantime, maximum pressure can continue.
Trump loves high drama and believes he can size up anyone across the negotiating table. That makes Singapore all the more alluring, but he’d be better off staying home and playing a round of golf.