My Word: Kicking the Korean can down the road

It’s easy to overuse the word “historic,” but the meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un falls into this category.

SPECIAL RED AND BLUE shots offered at Escobar bar to mark the summit meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un are displayed on a table in Singapore last week. (photo credit: EDGAR SU/ REUTERS)
SPECIAL RED AND BLUE shots offered at Escobar bar to mark the summit meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un are displayed on a table in Singapore last week.
(photo credit: EDGAR SU/ REUTERS)
As the entire world watched in fascination, US President Donald Trump proved yet again that he has an unconventional approach to international relations, preferring to be a tycoon-style deal-maker rather than a traditional diplomat.
It’s easy to overuse the word “historic,” but the meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un falls into this category. Years down the line, people might not remember exactly where they were on June 12, 2018, but the date itself will be recorded in history books.
That’s not to say that the event was anything more than a starting point. Israelis have too often seen peace processes with the Palestinians declared only to have them literally blow up – on buses, in restaurants, nightclubs and on the streets.
It was not that long ago that Trump and Kim publicly sparred, threatening each other’s countries with “fire and fury” and “the biggest disaster.” Theatrically signing a memorandum of understanding in Singapore is a better place to be than in a theater of war.
The meeting was its own message, particularly in a world in which the instant image is considered at least as important as substance.
If Barack Obama can get the Nobel Peace Prize for just announcing what he wants to do at the beginning of his term in office, then Trump and Kim should be considered as candidates for breaking down years of hostility and sitting and smiling together. (Since arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat won a Nobel along with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres in 1994 for the Oslo Accords, the bar is so low it doesn’t take a giant leap to cross over it.)
In just a few hours, Trump came, saw and conquered, but offered Kim enough credibility and prestige to remove the sting. Kim is also anxious for the sanctions on his starving country to be lifted. Watching the North Korean bodyguards running alongside their leader’s vehicle, my son remarked that it was probably a sign that the country couldn’t afford motorcycles or gasoline.
It is no wonder Kim panicked when US National Security Adviser John Bolton mentioned the possible Libyan model. Muammar Gaddafi, after all, did get rid of his nuclear weapons in return for the lifting of sanctions and a few years later his country got rid of him, with the forceful involvement of Western powers, in the turmoil of the Arab Spring.
But if nothing else, the process leading up to this meeting caused Kim to open up, for example allowing the participation of North Koreans at the Winter Olympics in South Korea. The ice was further broken in April when South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim each symbolically stepped over the border at the Demilitarized Zone that separates their two countries.
At the summit, however, Trump agreed to suspend US military exercises (“war games”) with South Korea, something that neither Seoul nor Tokyo can be happy about.
Russia and China probably watched with satisfaction.
Coming just after that iconic photograph from the G-7 summit in Canada, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel is seen giving a schoolmarmish look to the petulant Trump, the pictures of the US president and the North Korean chairman enjoying their time together were particularly jarring.
While it indicates that Trump does not take Europe as seriously as his predecessor in the White House, far from abandoning all America’s traditional allies, Trump is returning to them after the Obama years when Israel, Saudi Arabia and others felt rejected and at risk facing a hostile world of global jihad.
Now Iran is increasingly being isolated by the US, as any budding friendship with Kim will confirm. Iran is studying what took place at the meeting and any follow-up. In the deal former US secretary of state John Kerry led with the Iranians, sanctions were immediately lifted and big companies rushed to do business in the lucrative large market while Tehran used the sudden influx of cash to fund terrorism in ever-larger spheres.
The North Korean agreement drawn up this week does not contain a similar instant reward. The Korean “deal” depends on the future “complete denuclearization” of the peninsula, and that is a very big “if” – I can almost hear Trump’s voice saying “huge.”
Pyongyang has in the past pledged to scrap its nuclear program, only to break its promise and continue undeterred. Tehran, which has a record of nuclear cooperation with North Korea, will be acutely aware of that and will want to see whether, as part of an agreement, North Korea shares sensitive information it has on Iran that could later be used against it.
Similarly, Syria’s Bashar Assad, an ally of the Islamic Republic, has also reportedly indicated he is interested in meeting Kim in North Korea.
The Palestinians should note that, true to his word, Trump pulled out of the Iran deal, moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, and put Nikki Haley as a breath of fresh air and integrity in the UN. In the process, he cut aid to UNRWA, the body that funds the Palestinians as “perpetual refugees.” Thinking out of the box is more than a mantra.
TRUMP IS being attacked for embracing an odious, totalitarian dictator. The double standards can be seen in the other major news story of the week: the start of the FIFA World Cup.
If such major events as the Olympics and the World Cup can be hosted by China and Russia, there is little reason to single out Trump’s handshake this week.
Respecting human rights is evidently not considered an important enough criterion for either the organizers or the millions of spectators who, often at considerable expense, flock to the various stadiums.
Israel is consistently singled out as the UN’s favorite bad guy, allowing places like Iran and Syria to literally get away with murder. Israel does not occupy Tibet or parts of Ukraine. That would be the powers whose prestige is being boosted by every event they host. So much for good sports.
But this week, there was an encouraging sign that the rules of the game may be changing. Although, amid rumors of corruption, Qatar is hosting the 2022 World Cup and foreign workers are dying there by the dozens as they prepare the stadiums and facilities, it was announced on June 13 that the 2026 tournament will be co-hosted by the US, Canada and Mexico which collectively beat Morocco’s bid.
The same day, FIFA announced it would investigate Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian Football Association (and Olympic committee) for his comments calling for fans to burn the shirts of Argentina’s Lionel Messi if the team played a friendly game in Jerusalem.
Talk about playing with fire (or maybe that’s the Palestinians’ latest sport in Gaza: turning kite flying in a form of terrorism by attaching incendiary devices to the toys). Ironically, the probe decision came in the wake of Rajoub’s failed attempts to oust Israel from FIFA. Maybe there’s a sporting chance for fair play for Israel after all.
It is too soon to draw conclusions from the summit in Singapore. Israelis know to seek peace and quiet rather than another “process” as if the negotiations were the main thing, not the end result. It has yet to be seen if a comprehensive deal with Pyongyang can be reached and implemented, but this week saw a step in the right direction. It remains to be seen what Trump’s Korean process has kicked off, but for now, war games, out; World Cup in.