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Trump-Kim summit: will it even happen?

US bureaucracy and media sent reeling by news of Trump-Kim summit; working to prevent it happening

Alexander Mercouris

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Events in the US since President Trump agreed to South Korean President Moon’s proposal that he meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un show (1) the extent to which the US elite including large sections of the US government’s bureaucracy are willing President Trump to lose despite the huge damage this threatens the US; and (2) how President Trump’s foreign policy instincts are often superior to those of the foreign policy veterans or “adults” which whom he has become surrounded.

Firstly, it is now clear that President Trump’s decision to agree to President Moon’s proposal for a summit meeting with Kim Jong-un was his own.

Apparently when he was told of the proposal by the South Korean delegation which came to brief him about the talks the South Koreans had just had with Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang, he immediately and enthusiastically agreed to it without first consulting any of his advisers.

Moreover it seems his excitement was so great that he even let slip news of the big announcement which was coming at the Gridiron Dinner.

It seems that none of the key officials of the government – Secretary of State Tillerson (currently on a tour of Africa), Defense Secretary Mattis or National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster – were consulted.

Not only were key officials of the US government not consulted, but there is no secret about their concern and displeasure, whilst the US media is now united with expressions of concern that by agreeing to meet with Kim Jong-un President Trump has walked into some kind of trap.  In his typical earthy way President Trump has even tweeted about it

Not surprisingly, there are already attempts to hedge the summit meeting with preconditions, with White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders already talking about unspecified ‘concrete steps’ North Korea must take place before the summit meeting can happen at all

The president will not have the meeting without seeing concrete steps and concrete actions take place by North Korea, so the president will actually be getting something

It is also being said – apparently in all seriousness – that President Trump’s agreement to meet with Kim Jong-un reverses a previously unknown US policy not to meet with North Korea’s leaders lest this might lend them ‘legitimacy’.

Apparently Kim Jong-un’s father Kim Jong-il had repeatedly sought a summit meeting with the US President, only for his requests to be spurned by the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

All I would say about that is that I have never heard of such a policy before, but that if such a policy does exist then it is wrong, has visibly failed, and should be immediately reversed.

Suffice to say that when Kim Jong-il apparently first requested a summit meeting with US President Bill Clinton in the 1990s North Korea did not have nuclear weapons or intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Now it has both.

In other words refusing to meet with North Korea’s leaders has not denied them ‘legitimacy’; it has merely made them pursue their strategic weapons programme more aggressively, resulting in the opposite outcome to the one intended.

If President Trump has indeed reversed a policy of not meeting with North Korea’s leaders, then he should be commended – not criticised – for reversing a policy which has utterly and completely failed.

In any event this criticism ignores the fact that this latest proposal for a summit did not originate with the North Koreans.  It clearly comes from the South Koreans whose President Moon Jae-in is looking to President Trump for political cover so that he can press ahead with his dialogue with the North.

Refusing the proposal for a summit would deal a major political blow to President Moon Jae-in, quite possibly inclining him to cut the US further out of the steps he is taking to pursue dialogue with the North, which cannot be in the US’s interests.

US critics of the Trump-Kim summit need to understand that the US is not the only player in this game and that it is a mistake to see this is as a one-to-one confrontation between North Korea and the US.

Not only are the South Koreans taking an active and independent role in the diplomacy, but President Trump himself has just got a call from a very powerful player with a big stake in the game who will have made it very clear that he wants the summit to go ahead.

That player was no less a person than Chinese President Xi Jinping, who took time off from a key meeting of China’s National People’s Congress to telephone President Trump in order to make clear China’s wish that the Trump-Kim summit takes place and that progress towards a comprehensive settlement of the Korean conflict takes place.

Here is how China’s Xinhua news agency reports the call

Speaking by telephone, Xi told Trump that he appreciates the US president’s desire to resolve the Korean Peninsula issue politically, hoping that the United States and the DPRK will start dialogue as soon as possible and strive for positive results.

Xi added that he hopes all parties concerned will show goodwill and avoid doing anything which might affect or interfere with the improving situation on the peninsula, calling on them to maintain the positive momentum on the Korean Peninsula issue.

Xi also told Trump that China and the United States should focus on cooperation, control differences, promote win-win economic cooperation, and push for new advancement of bilateral relations in the new year.

Regarding the situation on the Korean Peninsula, Trump said the nuclear issue has shown positive development recently, adding that a high-level meeting between the United States and the DPRK meets the interests of all parties, hoping for an eventually peaceful solution to the nuclear issue.

It has been proved that President Xi is right to insist on a dialogue between the United States and the DPRK, Trump said, adding that the US side highly appreciates and values China’s significant role in resolving the Korean Peninsula issue, and is willing to strengthen communication and coordination with China over the issue, Trump said.

Xi pointed out that China remains persistent in denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula, and resolving the nuclear issue through talks.

At present, the positive changes in the situation on the Korean Peninsula are conducive to putting the denuclearization process back on the right track of settlement through dialogue, which is also in line with the direction set by UN Security Council resolutions concerning the DPRK, Xi said.

“I believe that as long as all parties adhere to the general direction of political and diplomatic settlement, we will surely push forward the Korean Peninsula issue in the direction that the international community has been looking forward to,” Xi said.

(bold italics added)

It is unusual for Xinhua to quote words Xi Jinping actually used in a telephone call with another world leader, yet this is what it has just done in relation to the conversation Xi Jinping and Donald Trump have just had with each other.  Moreover the words which Xinhua has quoted make clear China’s concern that the dialogue be continued.

On any objective assessment the storm of anger and criticism news of the Trump-Kim summit has provoked is baffling.

The critics have no alternative to offer other than the same policy of endless confrontation that has failed so dismally up to now.

As for the summit itself, what exactly is it that they fear?  President Trump is hardly in a position to give the whole US position away.  No one is expecting a comprehensive settlement of the whole conflict emerging from a single summit, and it is absurd to talk as if that is what might happen.  Months and probably years of hard negotiating lie ahead.

However if a negotiation is going to succeed the parties must at some point meet, and that is all the South Koreans and the North Koreans are proposing, and all that President Trump has agreed to.

Personally I cannot escape the feeling that the true cause of the alarm of at least some of the critics of the proposed Trump-Kim summit is that they do not want President Trump – who they have spent years ridiculing as an infantile narcissist – to prove them wrong by achieving a major diplomatic success.  President Trump’s tweet which I have quoted above shows that he thinks the same.

However there is almost certainly a more sinister agenda at work as well.

It is difficult to avoid the impression that some people in the US do not want to see the confrontation with North Korea end, not just because they balk at the idea of the US making concessions and because the Korean conflict is for the US’s military industries highly lucrative but because they fear that an end to the Korean conflict might undermine the US’s position in the north east Pacific and might result in South Korea going its own way.

Some of the criticisms which have been made of the President Trump’s agreement to attend the Trump-Kim summit look suspiciously like the start of a campaign by these people to abort prospects for a Korean settlement.

Given the entrenched positions these people hold in the US government and in the US media, there is no guarantee they will fail, and no guarantee that in the face of the obstacles they are putting before it the Trump-Kim summit will take place.

It is to be earnestly hoped that President Trump this time sticks to his decision and presses ahead with the summit.  As I have said previously, a great opportunity to make the deal of his life stands before him.  In his own interests and in the interests of the US he should not spurn it but seize it.

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Ukraine Wants Nuclear Weapons: Will the West Bow to the Regime in Kiev?

Efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation are one of the few issues on which the great powers agree, intending to continue to limit the spread of nuclear weapons and to prevent new entrants into the exclusive nuclear club.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The former Ukrainian envoy to NATO, Major General Petro Garashchuk, recently stated in an interview with Obozrevatel TV:

“I’ll say it once more. We have the ability to develop and produce our own nuclear weapons, currently available in the world, such as the one that was built in the former USSR and which is now in independent Ukraine, located in the city of Dnipro (former Dnipropetrovsk) that can produce these kinds of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Neither the United States, nor Russia, nor China have produced a missile named Satan … At the same time, Ukraine does not have to worry about international sanctions when creating these nuclear weapons.”

The issue of nuclear weapons has always united the great powers, especially following the signing of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The decision to reduce the number of nuclear weapons towards the end of the Cold War went hand in hand with the need to prevent the spread of such weapons of mass destruction to other countries in the best interests of humanity. During the final stages of the Cold War, the scientific community expended great effort on impressing upon the American and Soviet leadership how a limited nuclear exchange would wipe out humanity. Moscow and Washington thus began START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) negotiations to reduce the risk of a nuclear winter. Following the dissolution of the USSR, the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances persuaded Ukraine to relinquish its nuclear weapons and accede to the NPT in exchange for security assurances from its signatories.

Ukraine has in recent years begun entertaining the possibility of returning to the nuclear fold, especially in light of North Korea’s recent actions. Kim Jong-un’s lesson seems to be that a nuclear deterrent remains the only way of guaranteeing complete protection against a regional hegemon. The situation in Ukraine, however, differs from that of North Korea, including in terms of alliances and power relations. Kiev’s government came into power as a result of a coup d’etat carried out by extremist nationalist elements who seek their inspiration from Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera. The long arm of NATO has always been deeply involved in the dark machinations that led to Poroshenko’s ascendency to the Ukrainian presidency. From a geopolitical point of view, NATO’s operation in Ukraine (instigating a civil war in the wake of a coup) follows in the footsteps of what happened in Georgia. NATO tends to organize countries with existing anti-Russia sentiments to channel their Russophobia into concrete actions that aim to undermine Moscow. The war in the Donbass is a prime example.

However, Ukraine has been unable to subdue the rebels in the Donbass region, the conflict freezing into a stalemate and the popularity of the Kiev government falling as the population’s quality of life experiences a precipitous decline. The United States and the European Union have not kept their promises, leaving Poroshenko desperate and tempted to resort to provocations like the recent Kerch strait incident or such as those that are apparently already in the works, as recently reported by the DPR authorities.

The idea of Ukraine resuming its production of nuclear weapons is currently being floated by minor figures, but it could take hold in the coming months, especially if the conflict continues in its frozen state and Kiev becomes frustrated and desperate. The neoconservative wing of the American ruling elite, absolutely committed to the destruction of the Russian Federation, could encourage Kiev along this path, in spite of the incalculable risks involved. The EU, on the other hand, would likely be terrified at the prospect, which would also place it between a rock and a hard place. Kiev, on one side, would be able to extract from the EU much needed economic assistance in exchange for not going nuclear, while on the other side the neocons would be irresponsibly egging the Ukrainians on.

Moscow, if faced with such a possibility, would not just stand there. In spite of Russia having good relations with North Korea, it did not seem too excited at the prospect of having a nuclear-armed neighbor. With Ukraine, the response would be much more severe. A nuclear-armed Ukraine would be a red line for Moscow, just as Crimea and Sevastopol were. It is worth remembering the Russian president’s words when referring to the possibility of a NATO invasion of Crimea during the 2014 coup:

“We were ready to do it [putting Russia’s nuclear arsenal on alert]. Russian people live there, they are in danger, we cannot leave them. It was not us who committed to coup, it was the nationalists and people with extreme beliefs. I do not think this is actually anyone’s wish – to turn it into a global conflict.”

As Kiev stands on the precipice, it will be good for the neocons, the neoliberals and their European lackeys to consider the consequences of advising Kiev to jump or not. Giving the nuclear go-ahead to a Ukrainian leadership so unstable and detached from reality may just be the spark that sets off Armageddon.

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Mike Pompeo lays out his vision for American exceptionalism (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 158.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and International Affairs and Security Analyst via Moscow, Mark Sleboda take a look at Mike Pompeo’s shocking Brussels speech, where the U.S. Secretary of State took aim at the European Union and United Nations, citing such institutions as outdated and poorly managed, in need of a new dogma that places America at its epicenter.

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Speaking in Brussels, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unwittingly underscored why nobody takes the United States seriously on the international stage. Via The Council on Foreign Relations


In a disingenuous speech at the German Marshall Fund, Pompeo depicted the transactional and hypernationalist Trump administration as “rallying the noble nations of the world to build a new liberal order.” He did so while launching gratuitous attacks on the European Union, United Nations, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund (IMF)—pillars of the existing postwar order the United States did so much to create. He remained silent, naturally, on the body blows that the current administration has delivered to its erstwhile allies and partners, and to the institutions that once upon a time permitted the United States to legitimate rather than squander its international leadership.

In Pompeo’s telling, Donald J. Trump is simply seeking a return to the world that former Secretary of State George Marshall helped to create. In the decades after 1945, the United States “underwrote new institutions” and “entered into treaties to codify Western values of freedom and human rights.” So doing, the United States “won the Cold War” and—thanks to the late President George H. W. Bush, “we won the peace” that followed. “This is the type of leadership that President Trump is boldly reasserting.”

That leadership is needed because the United States “allowed this liberal order to begin to corrode” once the bipolar conflict ended. “Multilateralism has too often become viewed as an end unto itself,” Pompeo explained. “The more treaties we sign, the safer we supposedly are. The more bureaucrats we have, the better the job gets done.” What is needed is a multilateralism that once again places the nation-state front and center.

Leave aside for the moment that nobody actually believes what Pompeo alleges: that multilateralism should be an end in itself; that paper commitments are credible absent implementation, verification, and enforcement; or that the yardstick of success is how many bureaucrats get hired. What sensible people do believe is that multilateral cooperation is often (though not always) the best way for nations to advance their interests in an interconnected world of complicated problems. Working with others is typically superior to unilateralism, since going it alone leaves the United States with the choice of trying to do everything itself (with uncertain results) or doing nothing. Multilateralism also provides far more bang for the buck than President Trump’s favored approach to diplomacy, bilateralism.

Much of Pompeo’s address was a selective and tendentious critique of international institutions that depicts them as invariably antithetical to national sovereignty. Sure, he conceded, the European Union has “delivered a great deal of prosperity to the continent.” But it has since gone badly off track, as the “political wake-up call” of Brexit showed. All this raised a question in his mind: “Is the EU ensuring that the interests of countries and their citizens are placed before those of bureaucrats and Brussels?”

The answer, as one listener shouted out, is “Yes!” The secretary, like many U.S. conservative critics of European integration, is unaware that EU member states continue to hold the lion’s share of power in the bloc, which remains more intergovernmental than supranational. Pompeo seems equally unaware of how disastrously Brexit is playing out. With each passing day, the costs of this catastrophic, self-inflicted wound are clearer. In its quest for complete policy autonomy—on ostensible “sovereignty” grounds—the United Kingdom will likely have to accept, as the price for EU market access, an entire body of law and regulations that it will have no say in shaping. So much for advancing British sovereignty.

Pompeo similarly mischaracterizes the World Bank and IMF as having gone badly off track. “Today, these institutions often counsel countries who have mismanaged their economic affairs to impose austerity measures that inhibit growth and crowd out private sector actors.” This is an odd, hybrid critique. It combines a shopworn, leftist criticism from the 1990s—that the international financial institutions (IFIs) punish poor countries with structural adjustment programs—with the conservative accusation that the IFIs are socialist, big-government behemoths. Both are ridiculous caricatures. They ignore how much soul-searching the IFIs have done since the 1990s, as well as how focused they are on nurturing an enabling institutional environment for the private sector in partner countries.

Pompeo also aims his blunderbuss at the United Nations. He complains that the United Nations’ “peacekeeping missions drag on for decades, no closer to peace,” ignoring the indispensable role that blue helmets play in preventing atrocities, as well as a recent Government Accountability Office report documenting how cost-effective such operations are compared to U.S. troops. Similarly, Pompeo claims, “The UN’s climate-related treaties are viewed by some nations simply as a vehicle to redistribute wealth”—an accusation that is both unsubstantiated and ignores the urgent need to mobilize global climate financing to save the planet.

Bizarrely, Pompeo also turns his sights on the Organization of American States (OAS) and the African Union (AU), for alleged shortcomings. Has the OAS, he asks, done enough “to promote its four pillars of democracy, human rights, security, and economic development?” Um, no. Could that have something to do with the lack of U.S. leadership in the Americas on democracy and human rights? Yes. Might it have helped if the Trump administration had filled the position of assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs before October 15 of this year? Probably.

Equally puzzling is Pompeo’s single line riff on the AU. “In Africa, does the African Union advance the mutual interest of its nation-state members?” Presumably the answer is yes, or its members would be headed for the door. The AU continues to struggle in financing its budget, but it has made great strides since its founding in 2002 to better advance security, stability, and good governance on the continent.

“International bodies must help facilitate cooperation that bolsters the security and values of the free world, or they must be reformed or eliminated,” Pompeo declared. Sounds reasonable. But where is this “free world” of which the secretary speaks, and what standing does the United States today have to defend, much less reform it? In the two years since he took office, Donald Trump has never expressed any interest in defending the international order, much less “returning [the United States] to its traditional, central leadership role in the world,” as Pompeo claims. Indeed, the phrase “U.S. leadership” has rarely escaped Trump’s lips, and he has gone out of his way to alienate longstanding Western allies and partners in venues from NATO to the G7.

When he looks at the world, the president cares only about what’s in it for the United States (and, naturally, for him). That cynicism explains the president’s deafening silence on human rights violations and indeed his readiness to cozy up to strongmen and killers from Vladimir Putin to Rodrigo Duterte to Mohammed bin Salman to too many more to list. Given Trump’s authoritarian sympathies and instincts, Pompeo’s warnings about “Orwellian human rights violations” in China and “suppressed opposition voices” in Russia ring hollow.

“The central question that we face,” Pompeo asked in Brussels, “is the question of whether the system as currently configured, as it exists today—does it work? Does it work for all the people of the world?” The answer, of course, is not as well as it should, and not for nearly enough of them. But if the secretary is seeking to identify impediments to a better functioning multilateral system, he can look to his left in his next Cabinet meeting.

“Principled realism” is the label Pompeo has given Trump’s foreign policy. Alas, it betrays few principles and its connection to reality is tenuous. The president has abandoned any pursuit of universal values, and his single-minded obsession to “reassert our sovereignty” (as Pompeo characterizes it) is actually depriving the United States of joining with others to build the prosperous, secure, and sustainable world that Americans want.

“Bad actors have exploited our lack of leadership for their own gain,” the secretary of state declared in Belgium. “This is the poisoned fruit of American retreat.” How true. Pompeo’s next sentence—“President Trump is determined to reverse that”—was less persuasive.

 

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Russia calls on US to put a leash on Petro Poroshenko

The West’s pass for Mr. Poroshenko may blow up in NATO’s and the US’s face if the Ukrainian President tries to start a war with Russia.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Russia called on Washington not to ignore the Poroshenko directives creating an active military buildup along the Ukrainian-Donbass frontier, this buildup consisting of Ukrainian forces and right-wing ultranationalists, lest it “trigger the implementation of a bloody scenario”, according to a Dec 11 report from TASS.

The [Russian] Embassy [to the US] urges the US State Department to recognize the presence of US instructors in the zone of combat actions, who are involved in a command and staff and field training of Ukraine’s assault airborne brigades. “We expect that the US will bring to reason its proteges. Their aggressive plans are not only doomed to failure but also run counter to the statements of the administration on its commitment to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine by political and diplomatic means,” the statement said.

This warning came after Eduard Basurin, the deputy defense minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic noted that the Ukrainian army was massing troops and materiel for a possible large-scale offensive at the Mariupol section of the contact line in Donbass. According to Basurin, this action is expected to take place on 14 December. TASS offered more details:

According to the DPR’s reconnaissance data, Ukrainian troops plan to seize the DPR’s Novoazovsky and Temanovsky districts and take control over the border section with Russia. The main attack force of over 12,000 servicemen has been deployed along the contact line near the settlements of Novotroitskoye, Shirokino, and Rovnopol. Moreover, more than 50 tanks, 40 multiple missile launcher systems, 180 artillery systems and mortars have been reportedly pulled to the area, Basurin added. Besides, 12 BM-30 Smerch heavy multiple rocket launchers have been sent near Volodarsky.

The DPR has warned about possible provocations plotted by Ukrainian troops several times. Thus, in early December, the DPR’s defense ministry cited reconnaissance data indicating that the Ukrainian military was planning to stage an offensive and deliver an airstrike. At a Contact Group meeting on December 5, DPR’s Foreign Minister Natalia Nikonorova raised the issue of Kiev’s possible use of chemical weapons in the conflict area.

This is a continuation of the reported buildup The Duran reported in this article linked here, and it is a continuation of the full-scale drama that started with the Kerch Strait incident, which itself appears to have been staged by Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko. Following that incident, the president was able to get about half of Ukraine placed under a 30-day period of martial law, citing “imminent Russian aggression.”

President Poroshenko is arguably a dangerous man. He appears to be desperate to maintain a hold on power, though his approval numbers and support is abysmally low in Ukraine. While he presents himself as a hero, agitating for armed conflict with Russia and simultaneously interfering in the affairs of the Holy Eastern Orthodox Church, he is actually one of the most dangerous leaders the world has to contend with, precisely because he is unfit to lead.

Such men and women are dangerous because their desperation makes them short-sighted, only concerned about their power and standing.

An irony about this matter is that President Poroshenko appears to be exactly what the EuroMaidan was “supposed” to free Ukraine of; that is, a stooge puppet leader that marches to orders from a foreign power and does nothing for the improvement of the nation and its citizens.

The ouster of Viktor Yanukovich was seen as the sure ticket to “freedom from Russia” for Ukraine, and it may well have been that Mr. Yanukovich was an incompetent leader. However, his removal resulted in a tryannical regíme coming into power, that resulting in the secession of two Ukrainian regions into independent republics and a third secession of strategically super-important Crimea, who voted in a referendum to rejoin Russia.

While this activity was used by the West to try to bolster its own narrative that Russia remains the evil henchman in Europe, the reality of life in Ukraine doesn’t match this allegation at all. A nation that demonstrates such behavior shows that there are many problems, and the nature of these secessions points at a great deal of fear from Russian-speaking Ukrainian people about the government that is supposed to be their own.

President Poroshenko presents a face to the world that the West is apparently willing to support, but the in-country approval of this man as leader speaks volumes. The West’s blind support of him “against Russia” may be one of the most tragic errors yet in Western foreign policy.

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