On Thursday, US President Donald Trump, to the dismay of many, published a letter announcing he was calling off a much heralded tête-à-tête with North Korea’s reclusive leader Kim Jong-un, aimed at ending the North’s nuclear program.
It followed weeks of aggressive statements by both sides, which appeared to have been set off by US National Security Advisor John Bolton suggesting in an interview that the “Libya model” (disarmament followed by regime change) should be applied to North Korea.
It wasn’t long after Trump’s pulling the plug on the Singapore summit that critics began raining condemnation on the former real estate mogul’s lack of tact and ignorance of the ways of diplomacy.
But as it turned out, it also wasn’t long before Trump’s tactic had Kim Jong-un throwing in the towel, with Pyongyang releasing this reply on Friday:
“We had hoped a ‘Trump-style solution’ would be a wise way to relieve worries from both sides, meet our demands and realistically resolve problems,” North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan said in a Korean language statement carried by state media, without elaborating.
“We had set in high regards President Trump’s efforts, unprecedented by any other president, to create a historic North Korea-U.S. summit,” he said.
“We tell the United States once more that we are open to resolving problems at any time in any way,” he said.
Only two days earlier, North Korea’s foreign ministry had slammed the United States, calling Vice President Mike Pence “a political dummy” and “impudent.”
The turn around in Pyongyang’s tone in such a short time, is simply nothing short of astounding.
It comes as vindication that Trump’s business-like wheeling and dealing approach to international relations appears to have some merit.
As Trump has often said, “you have to be prepared to walk away from the table.” In this case it seems to have paid off for the 45th president.
He welcomed the North Korean statement on Twitter:
Very good news to receive the warm and productive statement from North Korea. We will soon see where it will lead, hopefully to long and enduring prosperity and peace. Only time (and talent) will tell!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 25, 2018
Meanwhile, the president told the press that the US was once again in talks with North Korea, and the June 12th summit may be back on:
“We’re going to see what happens. We’re talking to them now, it was a very nice statement they put out, we’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “It could even be the 12th, we’re talking to them now, they very much want to do it, we want to do it, we’re going to see what happens.”
In hindsight, the North Korean move to salvage the talks is not surprising. North Korea and Kim personally always had much more to gain – and lose – than Trump or the United States from direct talks.
Kim Jong-un is largely responsible for initiating the current détente himself when he accepted a South Korean invitation to participate in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
It is also possible, and perhaps likely, that Kim Jong-un always intended to leverage his nuclear and ballistic arsenal – once achieving the ability to strike the US – to obtain concessions, economic assistance, and a permanent peace treaty.
A treaty would mean durable security for himself and his government, while foreign investment represents the key to the country’s long-term stability and development. Both are potentially more valuable to Kim than maintaining a nuclear arsenal.
The world will be watching in eager anticipation as the dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang unfolds. But it does appear at this point that a Nobel Prize for Trump (and Kim) may not be totally out of the cards just yet.