Thu, Nov 29, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Kim Jong-un has proven to be a master of playing Donald Trump

By Kent Harrington and John Walcott

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is eager to hold a second summit with US President Donald Trump. Since their first meeting in Singapore in June, Kim has consistently outmaneuvered his counterpart.

Trump might still fancy himself a world-class dealmaker, but the truth is that Kim — like Russian President Vladimir Putin — has got Trump’s number.

Kim’s bonhomie (real or feigned) and promises of denuclearization have muted Trump’s threats, brought the South Korean government closer to his side and eroded international sanctions against his regime.

Kim has accomplished all of this without diminishing his regime’s nuclear capacity and he appears to have continued ballistic-missile development at 16 hidden sites.

Having gone from nuclear-armed pariah to presidential negotiating partner, it is little wonder that Kim would want a second summit to consolidate his newfound international legitimacy and position in the global limelight.

PERSONAL SUCCESS

Kim has already outdone his forebears. His father and grandfather both tried and failed to create a high-level channel to the US government.

The relationship that Kim has forged with Trump is thus an historic and personal success.

After six reclusive years in power, the 35-year-old scion of North Korea’s dynastic regime has made a remarkable debut on the world stage, both managing an erratic, ego-driven US president and setting the terms of the negotiations.

By contrast, the Trump administration has little to show for its efforts. Since the Singapore summit, US officials have reportedly been pushing the Kim regime to lay out a path to denuclearization.

However, the North Koreans have refused to turn over even the most basic facts about their arsenal. This stonewalling suggests that Kim has read Trump well.

As Trump himself contends: “I am the only one that matters.”

Trump’s narcissism, hunger for the spotlight and desperation to match former US president Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize are all that Kim needs to know about the man.

UPPING THE ANTE

The only question is how far Trump will go to secure something that he can hawk as an unprecedented deal with North Korea.

By agreeing to another summit while slow-rolling preliminary talks, Kim is reconnoitering Trump’s bottom line.

Recall that, as its up-front price for serious denuclearization talks, the North initially pushed for diplomatic steps, such as a treaty to end to the Korean War.

In Singapore, Trump promised to do just that, surprising Washington’s allies and US officials alike.

Then, in talks last month with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Kim upped the ante by also calling for an end to the international sanctions against his regime. No doubt, Kim is hoping that Trump’s impulsiveness will lead him to fold.

This month, Kim’s foreign ministry issued a public threat that North Korea could restart its weapons program if the US does not soften its position on sanctions.

As Pompeo pursues further talks in Pyongyang this month, Kim will surely hold his ground. Since declaring in June that North Korea is “no longer a nuclear threat,” Trump has backpedaled on virtually all of his demands, dropped his draconian deadlines and failed even to hint that Kim’s foot-dragging is a cause for concern.

Pompeo last month made no headway toward defining even the basic vocabulary of a future agreement.

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