Analysis: With historic North Korea talks, both Trump and Kim get something they crave

Posted marzo 11, 2018 9:46 pm by


The possible upcoming meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un took many people around the world by surprise. Analysts say it’s producing a mix of hope and skepticism. (March 9)

WASHINGTON – For President Trump and Kim Jong Un, the announcement of historic talks between the leaders of the United States and North Korea already has delivered something both of them crave: global attention and accolades.

Foreign policy veterans more accustomed to blasting Trump as a naif and a nationalist who has eroded U.S. leadership in international affairs found themselves praising him, albeit often with caveats. Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser for Barack Obama, said Sunday on ABC’s This Week that the former president was rooting for Trump to succeed, “and I think all Americans should be.”

On CNN’s State of the Union, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren praised Trump for moving toward a diplomatic approach and said she hoped it worked. “When the president succeeds in negotiations like this, the United States succeeds,” Warren, a fierce critic and potential 2020 Democratic challenger, said. “It makes us safer. It makes the whole world safer.”

And Kim, a global outlaw, finally has won what he has long sought — the prestige of a face-to-face meeting with the American president, and without making the most consequential concessions that previous administrations had demanded.

The episode is classic Trump, reflecting both his willingness to disrupt the accepted wisdom on how to proceed and his confidence in his own ability to strike a deal where others have failed. It also underscores his comfort with chaos, delivering a bombshell on foreign policy at a time he also is scrambling party orthodoxy on economic policy and, by the way, facing a legal probe on Russian election meddling that seems to be accelerating toward a conclusion.

At least for the moment, the diplomatic jolt about Pyongyang overshadowed concerns about whether Trump had started a trade war when he imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports Thursday, not to mention the potential legal complications of $130,000 in hush money his lawyer paid a porn star with the stage name of Stormy Daniels.

For a president who delights in bombshells, it was in some ways the biggest bombshell of them all. At a campaign rally Saturday in Moon Township, Penn., Trump made it clear that was part of the appeal for him. 

“Who else could do it? I mean, honestly, when you think,” the president said at an event where he endorsed Rick Saccone, the Republican nominee in a special House election Tuesday. Trump credited his tough rhetoric and economic sanctions for bringing Kim to the table. “This should have been handled, by the way, over the last 30 years, not now,” he went on. “But that’s OK, because that’s what we do. We handle things.”

When President Obama met with President-elect Trump after his unexpected election in 2016, the outgoing president told the incoming one that North Korea would be the most urgent problem he would face. The threat from Pyongyang’s nuclear program has only grown since then. Now North Korea has fired intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland and tested what analysts believe was a hydrogen bomb.

Efforts to rein in the nuclear program have failed, despite efforts by a series of presidents. During the Clinton administration, in 1994, North Korea signed an agreement to freeze its plutonium weapons program in exchange for aid, but then secretly pursued uranium enrichment anyway. During the George W. Bush administration, in 2005, Pyongyang promised to dismantle its nuclear program, another promise it didn’t keep.

During his tenure, Trump has used more threatening rhetoric than any of his predecessors, vowing “fire and fury” against a North Korea threat. Now he also is the first to agree to sit down with the North Korean leader. In exchange, Kim promised to stop nuclear and missile testing for now and to countenance joint military drills in South Korea next month.  

Some analysts expressed concern about whether the Trump administration was ready for the talks that are now slated by May without the meticulous preparations that marked previous rounds of negotiations, and without an experienced diplomatic team in place. The administration’s top Korea expert resigned recently, and there is no U.S. ambassador in South Korea and no confirmed assistant secretary of State for Asia. 

“We have to realize that there’s nothing more complex than nuclear negotiations,” Rhodes cautioned. “There’s no place in the world more volatile than the Korean Peninsula. You cannot just approach this like a reality show.”

Trump, for one, doesn’t seem concerned about that. His more conventional predecessors and their diplomatic advisers failed; why not try something different? “I won’t rule out direct talks with Kim Jong Un; I just won’t,” he said in remarks at the Gridiron Dinner a week ago, leaving reporters in the room uncertain about whether he was making news.  As it turned out, he was.

He even joked about which leader was more challenging. “As far as the risk of dealing with a madman is concerned,” he said, “that’s his problem, not mine.”