On way home from the Singapore Summit, President Trump taunted President Obama and tweeted: "President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer - sleep well tonight!". And two days later he again tweeted: "Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office…There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea."
Like most things that the US President claims or says, there was little truth in either tweet. In fact, when President Trump had taken office in January last year, North Korea possessed the nuclear bombs but did not have the capability to deliver them on US mainland. He now has that capability. Therefore, Americans were in no fear of North Korean nukes under President Obama. They now have that fear.
His claim for the world, that "there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea" was based on a simple commitment that North Korea gave in the one-and-a-half-page Joint Declaration in Singapore. That commitment did not have any timetable, any framework, any verification requirement, in fact, nothing at all except the US President's assurance that it would lead to "complete denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula". Given his track record and that of the North Korea leader, one must take leave of one's senses to believe that such a vague commitment would end what has been a major problem in international politics for so long.
And when the Iran nuclear deal is considered, there should not be any reason for even those that have taken leave of their senses to believe that the so-called Korean nuclear deal was even worthy of serious consideration. Iran had signed the nuclear deal with the US and the four other permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, where it had also given the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) unconditional and unfettered access to inspect all its nuclear facilities. And yet President Trump pulled the US out of it and called it the worst deal ever made by the United States.
President Trump's decision to pull the US out of the Iran nuclear deal was one of many irrefutable reasons why the Korean nuclear deal does not even stand fit for evaluation let alone believe in it. It was absurd that a US President would trash an international nuclear deal that was watertight against acquiring nuclear weapons as the Iran deal and trust a nuclear power like North Korea that has threatened its neighbours and does so regularly based on a one sentence promise to denuclearize. It was surreal.
Thus the euphoria that President Trump and his supporters tried to create from the Summit fizzled much faster than expected. In fact, the Summit was all but forgotten within days as far as its impact on denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula was concerned. Nevertheless, the Summit has left in its wake many issues that US' allies overseas, particularly in the Korean Peninsula, and of course most Americans outside the President's base were considering and drawing their own conclusions, none complimentary to the claims of the US President.
South Korea, for instance, was looking at the Summit a little differently than the first positive reaction that came from President Moon Jae-in. The South Korean President had welcomed the Summit soon after it ended, hastily no doubt, as "a historic event that has helped break down the last remaining Cold War legacy on earth." He soon found the perils of believing the US President when without consulting his country and even the Pentagon, President Trump, announced the suspension of the US-South Korea Joint Military exercises. In Tokyo, the mood was no different either. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had also welcomed it in strong words. He is now as worried as the South Korean President over the unexplained suspension of the joint exercises that was another feather in the cap of the North Korean leader.
In fact, President Trump allowed the North Korean leader to upend him on most counts in Singapore. Kim Jong-un had maintained stoic silence for a long time and had allowed the US President to insult and threaten him and his country upon becoming the 45th President of the United States in January 2017. At the UN last year, he had said: "We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself." Kim Jong-un broke his silence only after he had acquired the capability to deliver his country's nukes long distance. He then returned the US President's insults, called him a "dotard" but then offered to meet him in a Summit using via media, most likely the South Koreans. He allowed the US President to claim the move as his because there was more at stake for him than the US President.
It was easy sailing thereafter for Kim Jong-un. President Donald Trump made a 360-degree turn on his earlier behaviour towards him, and soon ran short of adjectives to praise him. President Trump's change of heart was all in the hope that the Summit would establish him as a peacemaker on the world stage and also perhaps earn him the Noble Peace Prize. When ABC's George Stephanopoulos reminded him of his earlier insults and threats, President Trump nonchalantly replied that the insults were intentional that, he claimed, had brought Kim Jong-un to the negotiating table! Like the ABC journalist, Kim Jong-un also let President Trump bask in his own glory while quietly demanding in behind-the-scene negotiations what was the dream of his grandfather, his father and his own, that the US President would come down from his lofty pedestal and in the glare of the world media, treat a North Korean leader as an equal in every conceivable respect.
Thus in Singapore, the hosts turned out a spectacle in terms of protocol that was a perfect show for the short duration that it lasted. There was in every conceivable way, a perfect equality in the treatment of the two leaders. Kim Jong-un lived his dream in real time and to top it all, his country did not have to pick up a single cent for the billions of dollars that was spent to arrange the Summit. It was the US and Singapore that picked the major portion of the tab with China chipping in by providing the special aircraft for the travel of the North Korean leader.
It does not need much common sense to conclude that, if the US' objective of the Singapore Summit, as the President and his aides stated emphatically, was "complete denuclearization in the Koran Peninsula", there was precious little that emerged from Singapore. Kim Jong-un may not look very intelligent but even before the Summit began, he had proved that he was both shrewd and intelligent. He had successfully encouraged President Donald Trump to transform him from a pariah in international politics to, in the words of the US President himself, a great leader, a great negotiator, etcetera, etcetera.
The President's 360-degree turnabout about him notwithstanding, Kim Jong-un did not forget for a moment that he was given the opportunity to live his dream in real time because of his country's nukes and its delivery capabilities. He would, therefore, have to be utterly stupid and dumb to dismantle his basis of recognition and that of his country by the US and the world on President Trump's promise to make his country rich and prosperous.
He would have to go into denial over what he had done not just with the Iran nuclear deal but also with the Climate Deal, NAFTA and his current role in the G7 to trust President Trump. And to top it all, Kim Jong-un would have to pretend he did not see who sat next to President Trump in Singapore and what he signified to him and his regime. It was John Bolton, his National Security Adviser who had almost short-circuited the Summit with his comment that the US would follow the Libyan model in North Korea that led to regime change and the death of Muammar Gadhafi in the manhole in Tripoli. Therefore, President Donald Trump had just one take away from Singapore, the credit of becoming the first US President to sit with a North Korean leader and negotiate. However, it came with a multi-billion dollars' price tag with the prospects of "complete and total denuclearization" in the Korean Peninsula still as far away as it was before the Summit leaving Kim Jong-un to put a smile on his otherwise glum face for having upended the US President.
The writer is a former Ambassador.
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