Historic deal in Hanoi? Trump needs a big ‘win’ in talks with Kim, not ‘peace’, analysts say
Just last year, “Little Rocket Man” and the "gangster fond of playing with fire" were trading barbs as they argued over whose nuclear button is “bigger and better.” Relations between Pyongyang and Washington, already dangerously close to outright conflict, became red-hot as a result of Trump and Kim’s rhetoric.
Then, following a sudden thaw between the two Koreas in early 2018, things took an unexpected turn, culminating in the first summit in Singapore last June.
Half a year after the two leaders confirmed their willingness to strive for “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” in what was widely seen as a declaration of intent at that time, the world wonders what this new meeting in Vietnam will bring.
The South Korean media has reported “detailed” and “serious” talks ahead of the summit, hinting at a possible breakthrough. But is this even possible?
Chairman Kim realizes, perhaps better than anyone else, that without nuclear weapons, his country could fast become one of the great economic powers anywhere in the World. Because of its location and people (and him), it has more potential for rapid growth than any other nation!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2019
The eyes of the world now turn to Hanoi, where the two leaders arrived in very different style – much like their approach to the talks. Trump’s Air Force One flew across the Pacific overnight, landing on Tuesday morning. Kim pulled in aboard his legendary armored train, after a two-day journey via China.
For domestic consumption
North Korea, some analysts believe, seems to be coming to the negotiating table with a clear goal: to receive international sanctions relief while obtaining a solid security guarantee in exchange for its denuclearization.
The US, on the other hand, apparently does not regard progress in the talks as a goal in itself, according to Nile Bowie, a political analyst and correspondent with Asia Times.
The Trump administration seems to be “less concerned with enacting the specifics of the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization [of North Korea] and more concerned with domestic politics,” Bowie told RT.
Very productive talks yesterday with China on Trade. Will continue today! I will be leaving for Hanoi, Vietnam, early tomorrow for a Summit with Kim Jong Un of North Korea, where we both expect a continuation of the progress made at first Summit in Singapore. Denuclearization?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2019
Trump merely needs to cut a “historic deal” with Pyongyang to use it “to rally his base ahead of the 2020 election as a show of his deal-making prowess and ‘peace through strength’ approach to foreign policy,” Bowie believes.
Success in the talks is likely to strengthen the president’s position ahead of the next election, and give him political leverage over a defiant Congress which has so far vehemently resisted many of his policies, Murray Hunter, an associate professor at the Universiti Malaysia Perlis, said.
Of course, Trump would like for the summit to be a success – not so much because he cares about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula – but because he would very much like to “chalk up a win for his administration,” according to Tim Beal, researcher and Asia specialist.
Some analysts believe Trump’s sudden change of heart on relations with North Korea was not driven by a genuine hope for peace but by the president’s vanity and a desire to leave behind a legacy that would overshadow his predecessor, Barack Obama.
Hawks cast a giant shadow
While Trump’s personal ambitions might actually contribute to the success of the summit, he is facing an array of problems in Washington. Both Democrats and establishment Republicans are perfectly willing to sabotage a revolutionary diplomatic initiative in their efforts to 'resist' Trump. Meanwhile, his own diplomats and security advisers have adopted a hawkish approach to dealing with international issues.
As part of this approach, the US establishment wages a “vociferous campaign… to derail dialogue by portraying it as a reckless endeavor,” Gregory Elich, a member of the advisory board of the Korea Policy Institute, told RT. Even some members of the president’s immediate circle, like National Security Advisor John Bolton, do not share his aspiration for peace in Korea.
Trump’s “power is limited and his moves to negotiate some sort of deal with North Korea are opposed in general by the political, military and security establishment and even by his own advisers,” Beal believes.
The president appears rather aware of this, tweeting out – twice! – a message blasting critics offering him unsolicited advice:
So funny to watch people who have failed for years, they got NOTHING, telling me how to negotiate with North Korea. But thanks anyway!
Incapable of making a deal?
Another issue that might be concerning in this case is the fact that the US often has a somewhat peculiar understanding of diplomacy. Surrounded by either loyal allies or perceived enemies, Washington has long reduced the very idea of diplomacy to simply handing down demands to other nations, whether they are friends or foes.
“The only thing it relinquishes is the attitude that Washington need never negotiate with any nation; it is only necessary to issue demands,” Elich told RT, adding that it “has long been a cornerstone of Washington’s foreign policy.” Instead of talking, the US prefers to just impose its will, through sanctions in particular.
“Sanctions are economic warfare. An easing of sanctions is portrayed in the United States as a ‘concession’ that should not be made,” Elich said. “The more amenable the United States is to easing up on sanctions, the more progress can be expected on nuclear disarmament.”
However, even those in the US who support Trump’s efforts maintain a position that could yet prove a stumbling block in talks with Pyongyang – that sanctions relief can only come as a result of the complete nuclear disarmament of North Korea. Essentially, as Elich puts it, the US demands that North Korea “unilaterally disarm without receiving anything in return.”
This is something that Kim is unlikely to ever accept, as he is still haunted by the ghost of the late Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, slain in a Western-backed coup after he unilaterally abandoned the national nuclear program, Bowie warned.
In Hanoi, however, the ghosts of US geopolitical victims seem far away as Trump and Kim shake hands. More than 3,500 journalists have flocked to the Vietnamese capital to cover the event in hopes of reporting on a historic breakthrough, and local businesses have already trotted out themed merchandise.
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