There was no way that Donald Trump’s historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would live up to the U.S. president’s hype.
As with most things Trump does, he puffed up the meeting with superlatives about how his negotiating skills would be able to wring concessions from North Korea that no other U.S. president has been able to accomplish in the nearly seven decades of hostilities between the two nations.
It will take a while to see who got the better of the meeting, and whether it leads to the complete nuclear disarmament of North Korea, the stated U.S. motive for the summit.
Early indications are that Kim got a lot of what he wanted, most notably the global recognition from sitting down face to face with the leader of the world’s most powerful nation. He also got Trump to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea, a concession that was reportedly made against the advice of Trump’s own foreign policy team.
For the U.S., the only concrete outcome is that the summit set the groundwork for more meetings on nuclear disarmament to come.
The president naively declared that “once you start the process (of denuclearization) it means it’s pretty much over.”
As previous administrations have learned when dealing with North Korea, the Asian nation is a master of “bait and switch” diplomacy, holding out the promise of nuclear disarmament in trying to wring concessions out of the West, only to change the terms and find trumped-up reasons to back away from previous promises.
The greatest leverage this nation has on North Korea is our economic sanctions, which Trump has promised to continue until there is real, verifiable progress on nuclear disarmament. North Korea has a crippled economy that has relied heavily on its main sponsor, China, but recently exports to China have dropped, pressuring North Korea to try to find other trading partners.
The bottom line America should take with North Korea is you can have nukes, or you can have a higher standard of living for your people, but you can’t have both.
In the past, North Korean leaders have always chosen military might over economic prosperity. Until they prove they are really prepared to change their focus and to stick with it for the long term, the U.S. had better proceed both cautiously and suspiciously.