Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Tuesday’s meeting in Singapore between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is nothing short of historic. The meeting in this case is the message.
As Trump’s adviser and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani told an event in Jerusalem last week hosted by OneFamily: “Now President Trump is on the verge of, hopefully, a breakthrough with North Korea. Who the heck ever thought that an American president could have accomplished that?”
Indeed, this will be the first time a North Korean leader meets a serving US president. Even more remarkably, during his first year in office Trump very publicly sparred with Kim (calling him “the little Rocket Man” and a “madman”) and threatening Pyongyang with “fire and fury,” while the Korean leader replied in kind, describing Trump as “senile” and saying that any conflict between the two countries would end “in the biggest disaster” for the US.
A huge question mark hung over the summit, after Trump, true to his style of unpredictable diplomacy, suddenly called it off and then agreed to it again. On Saturday he was quoted as saying, “I have a clear objective,” but adding that it would be “a spur of the moment” decision, based on how he feels when he sits down with the Korean leader, and that he would walk out of the meeting if he didn’t think it was going well.
No one, not even Trump himself, expects this one meeting to produce a comprehensive agreement on denuclearization, but if the two men manage to get to the first historic handshake, it will be a huge achievement for them both personally and a feather in Trump’s cap when it comes to his unconventional style of international diplomacy.
The extent to which this meeting is unprecedented can be seen in the fact that Kim has made only two trips before as a leader, both to China, as part of the groundwork for Tuesday’s summit. If nothing else, the process leading up to this meeting seems to have caused Kim to open up slightly, with, for example, the participation of North Koreans at the Winter Olympics in South Korea.
In April, the ice was further broken when South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim met at the Demilitarized Zone that separates their two countries, each symbolically stepping over the border into the other side.
Internationally, meeting with the US president grants Kim standing and prestige that have previously eluded him. Domestically, in a totalitarian country as closed and controlled as North Korea, the people will be carefully fed with what the regime wants.
Obviously, one reason for Kim accepting the invitation is a chance at easing the dire economic situation in North Korea.
In the diplomatic world, all eyes will be focused on Singapore to see what will be.
One of the reasons the buildup to the meeting was temporarily derailed in April was that US National Security Adviser John Bolton, known for his tough stand on China and North Korea, mentioned the Libyan example as a possible model. Kim is obviously acutely aware that Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi agreed to give up his nuclear program in return for the rescinding of sanctions but was deposed and ignominiously killed a few years later during the post-Arab Spring turmoil.
Significantly, Syria’s Bashar Assad, an ally of the Islamic Republic of Iran, has also reportedly indicated he is interested in meeting Kim in North Korea. And, most importantly, from Israel’s point of view, Iran will be studying what takes place at the meeting and any follow-up.
Pyongyang has in the past promised to scrap its nuclear program, only to break its pledge and continue undeterred. Tehran, which has a record of nuclear cooperation with North Korea, wants to see how the Trump/Kim precedent plays out, as an indication of what it can expect regarding its own nuclear program. It will also monitor whether, as part of an agreement, North Korea shares sensitive information it has on Iran that could later be used against it.
The international interest in the summit is understandable. Almost anything could happen. On Tuesday, the world will be wiser. The question is: Will it be safer?