Trump to meet Kim at the DMZ
President Trump expressed optimism that he can forge a peace deal with Kim Jong Un after the North Korean leader’s historic summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in last week. Trump announced this week that he wants his upcoming meeting with the North Korean leader to take place in the Demilitarized Zone between the two countries—where Kim and Moon also met—so that there can be a “great celebration on the site” if the talks are a success. In a carefully choreographed ceremony in the border village of Panmunjeom, Kim and Moon signed a declaration confirming their “common goal” of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, and pledged to negotiate a peace treaty to formally end the 1950–53 Korean War. (See Best International Columns.) Kim promised to dismantle his country’s nuclear test site at Mount Mantap in front of Western nuclear experts and journalists—though several reports suggested tests have already rendered the site unusable.
After the summit, Trump triumphantly tweeted: “KOREAN WAR TO END!” The president praised China’s role in facilitating the talks on Twitter, but told supporters at a rally in Michigan that he should get full credit for “everything”—a sentiment at least partially endorsed by Moon, who said Trump deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. National security adviser John Bolton insisted the administration wasn’t “starry-eyed” about Kim’s promises, asserting that the U.S. wouldn’t ease sanctions or offer any other concessions until Pyongyang takes concrete steps toward dismantling its nuclear program. Trump’s head-to-head with Kim is tentatively scheduled for late May or early June.
What the editorials said
Few people really believe Kim will give up his nuclear arsenal, said the San Francisco Chronicle. Having watched the “violent regime change” in Libya and Iraq after their leaders abandoned their nuclear programs, the North Korean dictator won’t “make the same mistake.” He’s probably hoping to “wiggle out of some sanctions” by making vague and unenforceable pledges to disarm. With Beijing and Seoul determined to lower the temperature on the peninsula—and Trump eager to be a “historic peacemaker”—Kim’s strategy “might just work.”
It certainly has in the past, said NationalReview.com. Pyongyang pretended it would make “major concessions” during “highly touted” North-South summits in 1992, 2000, and 2007, “only to renege on those promises after pocketing the economic benefits.” Trump can stop history from repeating itself by insisting that Kim give up his nukes within “months,” walking away if he doesn’t, and returning to a “maximum pressure” policy. No deal is better than a bad deal.
What the columnists said
Don’t be taken in by Kim’s “sucker-born-every-minute diplomacy,” said Nicholas Eberstadt in The New York Times. North Korea’s national identity is based on juche—the doctrine that Koreans should be reunited in a “socialist state” under Pyongyang’s control. Making peace with Seoul “would mean abandoning the quest that has legitimized the Kim family’s rule for three generations.” Kim’s nuclear weapons have forced China’s Xi Jinping and President Trump to give him personal audiences, said David French in NationalReview.com. Without nukes, North Korea would be a “ninth-rate” nation with “zero leverage over any nations besides South Korea.” Denuclearization “is not happening.”
The goals of Kim’s “full-on diplomatic offensive” are not hard to discern, said Van Jackson in Politico.com. With his effusive shows of friendliness, the savvy Kim wants to persuade China, Russia, and the international community to accept North Korea as a peaceful nuclear state and stop participating in U.S. sanctions. So either Trump makes major concessions in his desperation for “favorable news headlines,” or Kim makes him look like the bad guy.
Actually, “a major diplomatic breakthrough” may be possible—if Trump can “behave like a real world leader,” said Fred Kaplan in Slate.com. Moon and Kim agreed to a gradual process toward a peace treaty that would formally end the Korean War, with what Kim called “phased, synchronized measures.” North Korea may be willing to dismantle some of its nuclear arsenal as the U.S. lifts some of its sanctions in a step-by-step process of building trust. If Trump can overcome his impatience and accept this “spirit of gradualism,” he has a chance of success. If he demands total denuclearization right away, “then the summit will be a disaster.”