By the time this piece is posted we’ll be minutes away from the historic face-to-face meeting in Singapore between President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. As I’ve said in my previous posting on the question of what to do about North Korea, it’s a fool’s bet to try to predict outcomes. It takes either more hubris than I am willing to muster or more in-depth knowledge than I am willing to claim to predict with any degree of confidence what is going to come out of this summit.
I will claim a few good calls, though. While many were deriding the President’s rhetoric as risking provoking Kim into pulling the trigger and attacking (fill in the blank: South Korea, Guam, Japan, the U.S., the dark side of the moon), I saw it as one bully using the language the other bully might understand. And that’s pretty much how it shaped up. That exchange of nah-nah-na-yah-nah was actually pretty productive and through it Trump told Kim he wasn’t going to be pushed around or sweet talked, as previous presidents had been.
It undoubtedly also took persuasion by the DPRK’s few allies, most notably China, to encourage Kim to consider a new tack in relations with the U.S. and, by extension, South Korea. And one can’t discount the flair and pageantry and the positive PR value of the two Koreas joining together for the Soeul Olympics.
None of this is to say that Kim and Trump will become bosom buddies and that North Korea will abandon its nuclear program or the weapons it already has. Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is that there will be an agreement and framework reached for advancing a process, most likely a lengthy and contentious process, that could eventually lead to some sort of normalization in relations between the U.S., the DPRK, South Korea, and other countries in the region. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo already has said that he is prepared to brief the leaders of the region’s countries on the summit, a kind of preparation for next steps.
There has been one troublesome development in the past few hours, which is Kim’s announcement that he plans on leaving Singapore later today, cutting short his stay. I’ve not only seen this tactic before, but was the victim of if when it was used on me in a key negotiation I had been engaged in. What I fear is that the North Korean leader will discuss most of the key issues with Trump, and then bow out with the most important and crucial issue left untouched. As an experienced negotiator, I trust the President will see through this ruse, but I can’t help but think this is Kim’s plan.
I don’t think it would be any surprise if either Trump or Kim, or both, walk out of the summit. One thinks back to the 1986 Rejkjavik Summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, when talks collapsed, but the framework was laid for what eventually led to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the U.S. and the then Soviet Union. And one wishes that Barack Obama and John Kerry had been more willing to walk out on the Iranians rather than agreeing to the weak nuclear treaty that President Trump recently pulled the U.S. out of.
Well, it’s almost show time in Singapore, so get your beer and snacks, pull up a seat, and get ready to watch the festivities.