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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
In the first hours after hearing that North Korea’s leader wanted to meet with me to talk denuclearization and that missile launches will end, the press was startled & amazed.They couldn’t believe it. But by the following morning the news became FAKE.They said so what, who cares!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 10, 2018
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.