North Korea: Trump and Kim’s cold feet
President Trump is finally figuring out that North Korea played him, said Margaret Hartmann in NYMag.com. Trump said this week he may postpone the June 12 summit with Kim Jong Un, out of concern the meeting could turn into a political embarrassment rather than the Nobel Peace Prize the president openly coveted. The White House has been “reeling” since last week, when “North Korea reverted to acting like North Korea” by saying it would never exchange its nuclear weapons for economic aid or unilaterally disarm. The North Koreans were, not surprisingly, angered by national security adviser John Bolton’s demand for the “Libya model” of unconditional denuclearization, which was followed in Libya by the toppling and killing of dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi. No doubt about it—Trump was “duped,” said David Frum in TheAtlantic.com. Even if his dream of brokering a historic deal now appears delusional, Trump will eventually take whatever Kim offers—“a testing pause, maybe”—so he can triumphantly proclaim he’s made a “great deal.”
Actually, “it’s a good thing” Trump is lowering his expectations, said Tom Collina in TheHill.com. Kim was never going to accede to the “Libya model” and turn over all his nuclear weapons at once. With Bolton’s unrealistic demand out of the way, Trump can now pursue a “phased denuclearization of the peninsula” over a period of years in return for tangible security guarantees, which both sides could call a victory. Kim had “a temper tantrum” over Bolton’s Libya example because he knows he’s “boxed in,” said Marc Thiessen in The Washington Post. If he blows up the talks, “sanctions will be ramped up” again, and with Trump and Bolton calling the shots, “military action is possible.”
Don’t underestimate the power of Trump’s “madman theory” diplomacy, said Nicholas Grossman in NationalReview.com. Kim can’t be sure whether Trump’s threat to incinerate his regime is just “reality-show bluster” or an “actual willingness to attack.” And Kim doesn’t want to pass up the prestige-boosting opportunity to negotiate directly with an American president—“something his father and grandfather sought, but never achieved.” So he and Trump will eventually sit down. Kim won’t denuclearize, but he might offer to freeze his nuclear program, end testing, and permit inspections in return for a period of trust-building “normalized relations.’’ If Trump will settle for half a loaf, a deal is still possible.