Trump touts Kim friendship at second nuclear summit
President Trump met North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un with warm words in Vietnam this week during their second face-to-face summit, hoping to parlay an increasing personal rapport into progress on denuclearization. Referring to Kim as “my friend,” Trump declared that he was satisfied with the pace of negotiations so far. Although talks were still ongoing as The Week went to press, the outlines of a deal are emerging in which the United States will provide some respite from sanctions in exchange for North Korea agreeing to stop producing new bombs. “I’m not in a rush” for North Korea to completely denuclearize, Trump said in the lead-up to the summit. “I just don’t want testing. As long as there’s no testing, we’re happy.”
The U.S. and North Korea are also discussing a joint statement announcing the end of the Korean War, in which a cease-fire agreement has been in effect since 1953. The move would be symbolic, without a formal peace treaty. However, some fear that it would open the way for North Korea to demand that Trump remove troops from South Korea. Kim’s regime is believed to have as many 65 nuclear warheads. A recent analysis by Stanford University estimates that the regime has produced enough nuclear fuel to make five to seven new bombs since denuclearization talks with the Trump administration began.
What the columnists said
This North Korea summit is turning out just like the last one, said Paul Waldman in The Washington Post. Once again, Trump is declaring victory without any signs that North Korea will give up its nuclear arsenal. He seems convinced that he can somehow charm Kim into denuclearizing. But Kim won’t, because “he has always seen nuclear weapons as key to his survival.” The biggest thing Trump has achieved is elevating one of the world’s most brutal dictators by showering him with praise and treating him “like an equal.”
“Say what you will about Trump,” his chummy approach is getting results, said William Arkin in The Guardian (U.K.). North Korea has conducted only one nuclear test during Trump’s presidency, compared with five underground tests during the previous two administrations, which tried to threaten and coerce the regime. “Trump is by no means the first president to seize control of diplomacy in a personal way,” said Betsy McCaughey in the New York Post. Remember Richard Nixon’s shocking visit to Communist China? “Face it, Trump’s personal diplomacy is controversial because he’s controversial.”
Let’s temper our expectations for this or any North Korea summit, said Heather Hurlburt in NYMag.com. “The future will be all about learning to live with them and finding ways to increase their transparency, predictability, and safety.” At this point, no administration could get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. Trump doesn’t really expect Kim to do that, and he “has sought to decouple expectations of summit ‘success’ from actual progress on denuclearization.” Even a small advance would be, in Trump’s words, “very tremendous,” and enough for Trump to declare a win. ■