“Little Rocket Man,” Kim Jong-un of North Korea, got the photo-op that he so desperately wanted from President Donald Trump: the U.S. and North Korean flags side-by-side and President Trump smiling and shaking his hand. Trump said it was “an honor” to meet him.
This will now run on a loop on North Korea’s state-run propaganda media to show that North Korea’s Supreme Leader, by developing nuclear weapons and an ICBM missile that can deliver a nuclear warhead to the continental United States, forced the President of the United States into meeting with him one-on-one as an equal among nuclear states, and obtained assurances from the president of the survival of his despotic murderous criminal regime.
Other despotic regimes around the world will take away the message: get yourself some nukes, and force the United States to deal.
Michael Green, senior National Security Council official on Asia policy during the George W. Bush administration, writes at Foreign Policy, Trump Pardons Another Celebrity Criminal:
In Singapore on Tuesday, the president of the United States demonstrated that he has the authority to give unconditional pardons not only to felons at home, but also on the international stage. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s regime has violated multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions by continuing to test ever more dangerous ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons and was found guilty of crimes against humanity by a U.N. Commission of Inquiry in 2014. In Singapore, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he trusted Kim, said it was an honor to meet him, and declared peace on the Korean Peninsula. The situation on the peninsula is so horrible in terms of human suffering and threats to peace that one wants to hope for the best with this diplomatic pageant. Maybe I am just another “hater and loser” — but parsing what we know thus far, it is hard to see what we have achieved for the North Korean people or the safety of the world in exchange for pardoning Kim.
It is clear what Kim achieved. First, after two decades of North Korean leaders trying to lure a U.S. president to give de facto recognition to the regime for its nuclear weapons achievement, Kim struck gold. Isolated because of his nuclear weapons program, until recently Kim could not even score a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the leader of North Korea’s only ally. Now, he has two meetings with Xi, two with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and a meeting with Trump under his belt, with who knows how many more to come. Second, Kim has blunted the “maximum pressure” he knew he would face after escalating his missile and nuclear tests. The United States may keep sanctions on for the duration of talks, but China — which accounts for 90 percent of North Korean trade — has already visibly backed off from sanctions pressure on the North. Even U.S. sanctions, which the government significantly strengthened last September, require active application against North Korean and third-country entities, and that appears to be off the table. Third, Kim won an unexpected bonus with Trump’s commitment to end annual military exercises with South Korea, a unilateral pledge that blindsided South Korea and Japan and that will leave U.S. forces less prepared to deal with a North Korean military that is no less dangerous than it was before the Singapore summit. Even more stunning was Trump’s claim that he would eventually like to withdraw troops from Asia, an alliance-rattling statement that will warm hearts in Beijing and Moscow.
Emily Rauhala at the Washington Post points out, “China’s suggestion is, as a first step, for North Korea to suspend nuclear activity, and for the U.S. and South Korea to also suspend large-scale military drills,” Wang Yi, then China’s foreign minister, said in March 2017. Well, Wang got his wish. Ending military exercises? Trump’s plan for North Korea was China’s plan first.
It is good that North Korea has ceased testing missiles and nuclear weapons, but that is instantly reversible and arguably not worth the irreversible gains Kim pocketed in terms of de facto sanctions relief and prestige. Kim’s “firm and unwavering commitment” to denuclearization is the same “firm and unwavering” commitment the regime made before embarking on a series of nuclear and missile tests in the last round of diplomacy. Pyongyang has figured out that nuclear weapons states make that pledge to join the club: In Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the five declared nuclear weapons states committed to the same, and Kim has stated unequivocally that North Korea is now a nuclear weapons state itself. We may see some symbolic and limited disablement of North Korean rocket test sites. Kim would be foolish not to do something along those lines to keep the current process going, but that would not constitute a real step toward complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization.
The real test will come when U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo follows up in the weeks and months ahead. If he can persuade the North Koreans to turn over a full declaration of their nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile programs, then there might be cause to dial back the skepticism. North Korea was supposed to take this step under both the Agreed Framework and the six-party talks and never did, and both those agreements were far more specific about North Korean actions than what we know about the Singapore agreement. A declaration would not mean North Korea intends to denuclearize, but it is a necessary first step in the process that we have never see. Pompeo will have less leverage now to achieve that objective, but perhaps the goodwill generated in Singapore will compensate for diminished international pressure.
North Korea is the world’s worst human rights violator, and yet human rights, always an American demand, was not on the agenda. Trump on North Korea’s human rights violations: ‘It’s rough in a lot of places, not just there’. After bad-mouthing our G-7 allies, in particular Canada in recent days, Trump lavished Kim with compliments after historic summit. Trump noted North Koreans love Kim (because of brainwashing propaganda and the threat of death or three generations of your family being sent to labor camps). Trump proclaimed I trust Kim and he trusts me, an amazing assertion for two of the world’s most notorious liars. Trump was so enamored with the North Korean despot that he said I’ll ‘absolutely’ invite Kim Jong Un to White House. Please don’t.
Wait for it… You just knew this had to happen. Trump: I told Kim he could have ‘the best hotels in the world‘. The man is shameless.
Conservative scholar and former CIA officer Bruce Klingner says President Trump’s proposal for denuclearization with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday is weaker than the terms offered by former President Bill Clinton during his administration. Ex-CIA officer: Trump’s Korea proposal weaker than Bill Clinton’s:
“This is very disappointing. Each of the four main points was in previous documents with NK, some in a stronger, more encompassing way. The denuke bullet is weaker than the Six Party Talks language. And no mention of CVID, verification, human rights,” Klingner, who is now a Northeast Asia senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation said in a tweet.
Clinton struck a deal with North Korea in 1994, known as the Agreed Framework, which was aimed at freezing Pyongyang’s nuclear power plant and replacing it with plants with safeguards against nuclear weapons work.
The agreement broke down during the George W. Bush administration in 2003.
It should also be noted that the Iran Nuclear deal, which President Trump recently violated by withdrawing from it, is far superior to the weak framework with North Korea to which he just agreed.
The NewYork Times‘ Nicholas Kristoff, who has spent time in North Korea and was cautiously optimistic before the Singapore Summit assesses today, Trump Was Outfoxed in Singapore:
It sure looks as if President Trump was hoodwinked in Singapore.
Trump made a huge concession — the suspension of military exercises with South Korea. That’s on top of the broader concession of the summit meeting itself, security guarantees he gave North Korea and the legitimacy that the summit provides his counterpart, Kim Jong-un.
Within North Korea, the “very special bond” that Trump claimed to have formed with Kim will be portrayed this way: Kim forced the American president, through his nuclear and missile tests, to accept North Korea as a nuclear equal, to provide security guarantees to North Korea, and to cancel war games with South Korea that the North has protested for decades.
In exchange for these concessions, Trump seems to have won astonishingly little. In a joint statement, Kim merely “reaffirmed” the same commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula that North Korea has repeatedly made since 1992.
“They were willing to de-nuke,” Trump crowed at his news conference after his meetings with Kim. Trump seemed to believe he had achieved some remarkable agreement, but the concessions were all his own.
The most remarkable aspect of the joint statement was what it didn’t contain. There was nothing about North Korea freezing plutonium and uranium programs, nothing about destroying intercontinental ballistic missiles, nothing about allowing inspectors to return to nuclear sites, nothing about North Korea making a full declaration of its nuclear program, nothing about a timetable, nothing about verification, not even any clear pledge to permanently halt testing of nuclear weapons or long-range missiles.
Kim seems to have completely out-negotiated Trump, and it’s scary that Trump doesn’t seem to realize this. For now Trump has much less to show than past negotiators who hammered out deals with North Korea like the 1994 Agreed Framework, which completely froze the country’s plutonium program with a rigorous monitoring system.
Trump made a big deal in his news conference about recovering the remains of American soldiers from the Korean War, but this is nothing new. Back in 1989, on my first trip to North Korea, officials there made similar pledges about returning remains, and indeed North Korea has returned some remains over the years. It’s not clear how many more remain.
Trump claimed an “excellent relationship” with Kim, and it certainly is better for the two leaders to be exchanging compliments rather than missiles. In a sense, Trump has eased the tensions that he himself created when he threatened last fall to “totally destroy” North Korea. I’m just not sure a leader should get credit for defusing a crisis that he himself created.
There’s still plenty we don’t know and lots of uncertainty about the future. But for now, the bottom line is that there’s no indication that North Korea is prepared to give up its nuclear weapons, and Trump didn’t achieve anything remotely as good as the Iran nuclear deal, which led Iran to eliminate 98 percent of its enriched uranium.
There was also something frankly weird about an American president savaging Canada’s prime minister one day and then embracing the leader of the most totalitarian country in the world.
“He’s a very talented man,” Trump said of Kim. “I also learned that he loves his country very much.”
In an interview with Voice of America, Trump said “I like him” and added: “He’s smart, loves his people, he loves his country.”
Trump praised Kim in the news conference and, astonishingly, even adopted North Korean positions as his own, saying that the United States military exercises in the region are “provocative.” That’s a standard North Korean propaganda line. Likewise, Trump acknowledged that human rights in North Korea constituted a “rough situation,” but quickly added that “it’s rough in a lot of places, by the way.” (Note that a 2014 United Nations report stated that North Korean human rights violations do “not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”)
Incredibly, Trump told Voice of America that he had this message for the North Korean people: “I think you have somebody that has a great feeling for them. He wants to do right by them and we got along really well.”
It’s breathtaking to see an American president emerge as a spokesman for the dictator of North Korea.
One can argue that my perspective is too narrow: That what counts in a broader sense is that the risk of war is much less today than it was a year ago, and North Korea has at least stopped its nuclear tests and missile tests. Fundamentally, Trump has abandoned bellicose rhetoric and instead embraced the longstanding Democratic position — that we should engage North Korea, even if the result isn’t immediate disarmament.
And just how long do you think his national security advisor, Neocon war monger John Bolton, who has argued for a preemptive military strike against North Korea, is going to allow diplomats at the State Department to stand in the way of realizing his dream?
The 1994 Agreed Framework, for example, didn’t denuclearize North Korea or solve the human rights issues there, but it still kept the regime from adding to its plutonium arsenal for eight years. Imperfect processes can still be beneficial, and the ongoing meetings between the United States and North Korea may result in a similar framework that at least freezes the North Korean arsenal.
Of all the things that could have gone badly wrong in a Trump administration, a “bloody nose” strike on North Korea leading to a nuclear war was perhaps the most terrifying. For now at least, Trump seems to have been snookered into the same kind of deeply frustrating diplomatic process with North Korea that he has complained about, but that is far better than war.
Even so, it’s still bewildering how much Trump gave and how little he got. The cancellation of military exercises will raise questions among our allies, such as Japan, about America’s commitment to those allies.
The Trump-Kim statement spoke vaguely about efforts “to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula,” whatever that means. But that was much less specific than the 1994 pledge to exchange diplomatic liaison offices, and the 2005 pledge to work for a peace treaty to end the Korean War.
In January 2017, Trump proclaimed in a tweet: “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!” But in fact it appears to have happened on Trump’s watch, and nothing in the Singapore summit seems to have changed that.
All this is to say that Kim Jong-un proved the more able negotiator. North Korean government officials have to limit their computer time, because of electricity shortages, and they are international pariahs — yet they are very savvy and shrewd, and they were counseled by one of the smartest Trump handlers of all, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea.
My guess is that Kim flattered Trump, as Moon has, and that Trump simply didn’t realize how little he was getting. On my most recent visit to North Korea, officials were asking me subtle questions about the differences in views of Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley; meanwhile, Trump said he didn’t need to do much homework.
Whatever our politics, we should all want Trump to succeed in reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and it’s good to see that Trump now supports engagement rather than military options. There will be further negotiations, and these may actually freeze plutonium production and destroy missiles. But at least in the first round, Trump seems to have been snookered.
UPDATE: Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post explains How Trump lost the summit before the photographers even left the room.