Troubles from Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump receives a letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un through Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of North Korea, in the Oval office last Friday.
On Nov. 27, U.S. President Donald Trump and two Washington Post reporters met in the Oval Office. After the interview, Trump asked the reporters whether they would like to read a letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. He gave them the letter and told them to take their time on a sofa. While the reporters were reading the letter — which was likely the one he showed to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in late September, or could be an unofficial letter received later — many people came in and out of the office.
While talking to other people, Trump repeatedly told the reporters how great the letter was. It is hard to understand how Trump was showing off the letter to the reporters from the newspaper, which he often calls a source of fake news. Trump does not seem to care. No advice or persuasion works. It goes the same for the North Korean nuclear issue, and I think that is a bigger problem.
The second North Korea-U.S. summit in late February is an expected move. Trump wanted it more than anyone. The government shutdown is lasting more than a month. Economic indicators are not promising either. Independent counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation results will be announced soon and could directly hit Trump. His approval rating has fallen to 39 percent. He desperately needs a victory.
The problem is that the current situation resembles that of the Singapore summit, which was a failure. After Trump set the date top-down at the time, Sung Kim and his North Korean counterpart Choe Son-hui moved briskly at a working level. But North Korea would not make any concessions. This time, Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, and Choe met in Sweden. They will meet a few more times, but the outcome will not be so different. Pyongyang already has the upper hand. Vice Chairman Kim Yong-chol’s attitude during his White House visit symbolizes this. In Singapore, Trump made three “mistakes”: accepting an agreement that was not even better than in the past, postponing the joint military exercise and mentioning his intention to withdraw the U.S. Forces in South Korea (USFK). It became a source of trouble time and time again.
It is a bad deal, giving something real in exchange for the North’s fake denuclearization — in other words, simply the freezing of future nuclear development. In fact, it is the scenario the State Department had been most wary of. But it is becoming reality. Kim would declare North Korea a nuclear state, and Trump would declare that he saved the continental United States.
What should we do at this point? Should we be ready to welcome the agreement between North Korea and the United States without a complete denuclearization roadmap? Is it inevitable for Kim’s return visit to Seoul in the near future?
The problem is that a second North Korea-U.S. summit is likely to be the last meeting for a while. After accomplishing his goals, Trump is unlikely to pursue negotiations for complete denuclearization for Korea in the second half of 2019, when the re-election campaign begins. It would be naive or foolish to believe he would. It would be fortunate if a USFK reduction or withdrawal is not discussed. In fact, however, we do not have much to say as Korea pushed for this situation.
The master of negotiation is neither Trump, nor Moon: it is Kim.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 23, Page 30