Is Trump walking into a North Korean trap?
By Diane Cooke
The White House announced with great fanfare this week that President Trump would be meeting with North Korea's trigger-happy leader Kim Jong Un. The North Korea leader had invited President Trump to meet, and he accepted.
Trump has boasted that he could be about to make the great deal of his career with the dictator. There's also been talk that if he pulls off a disarmament pact there could be a Nobel Peace Prize in the offing for him.
“I think North Korea is going to go very well,” he said. “I think we will have tremendous success … they promised they wouldn’t be shooting off missiles in the meantime, and they’re looking to de-nuke. They’re gonna be great,” said Trump on Saturday night at a Pennsylvania rally.
But on the Sunday morning talk shows, senators were singing a different tune. While cautiously optimistic about the meeting as a whole, they’re understandably worried that Trump will be taken advantage of by a regime that has gotten the better of the United States many times over the years.
On Meet the Press, Senator Elizabeth Warren said that the meeting is a “win” for North Korea. “It legitimizes, in their view, their dictatorship and legitimizes their nuclear weapons program.”
She said she wanted the president to succeed, “but these are very complex negotiations, and what I’m concerned about in these negotiations is we have a State Department that’s just been decimated. We don’t have an ambassador right now to South Korea. We don’t have an assistant secretary for this whole region.”
Likewise Quartz says such a meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un could be highly risky. The reason a US president has never met a North Korean leader is that the US and North Korea have been, and continue to be, at war.
Since 1953, a ceasefire has made that conflict largely symbolic, with suffering limited to South Koreans killed in provocative strikes, and the North Koreans who suffer in a gulag state or die fleeing it.
In international diplomacy, the leader-to-leader meeting is the highest level of commitment available. No prior White House would send the president into a summit that has not been pre-scripted with guaranteed results. Should there be no agreement, there is no face-saving blame to be put on negotiators, and little room left for diplomacy. And while the White House says this meeting is not a negotiation, that only raises the question of what the president is even doing there.
To entice Trump, North Korea said it would suspend the nuclear and missile tests it uses to protest military exercises between the US and South Korea. This says more for the success of the North’s nuclear weapons program than it does for the US’s tightening sanctions. Why launch another rocket to gain attention when you can simply demand a meeting with the president of the United States?
Experts and journalists have expressed concern at the prospect given the fact that the president is notoriously easily swayed by praise. Vox’s Zack Beauchamp writes:
"[Trump is] easily swayed by flattery, not terribly interested in policy details, and deeply invested in his reputation as a dealmaker. Put those together and it’s easy to imagine the North Koreans tricking Trump into a deal that, in the long term, helps their strategic position while hurting America’s."