The Irish Times view on North Korea: playing Trump like a violin

There is no evidence that Pyongyang has taken any meaningful steps towards eliminating its nuclear arsenal

Knowing of Trump’s susceptibility to flattery, Kim Jong-un’s latest overture was a letter – “very warm, very positive”, in the words of White House press secretary Sarah Sanders – asking for a second meeting between the two men. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Knowing of Trump’s susceptibility to flattery, Kim Jong-un’s latest overture was a letter – “very warm, very positive”, in the words of White House press secretary Sarah Sanders – asking for a second meeting between the two men. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

 

Three months after their landmark summit in Singapore, Kim Jong-un continues to play Donald Trump like a violin. That meeting was a coup for the dictator in Pyongyang, giving him global credibility, tightening his grip on power, reducing the threat of a US-led attack and raising the prospect of new flows of financial aid. All of that came at virtually no cost to Kim. His only concession was barely a concession at all: a vague pledge to work towards the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea is still reaping the dividend. Just this week, Chinese president Xi Jinping sent a senior official to Pyongyang, and bilateral trade between the two countries continues to flow.

There is no evidence that Pyongyang has taken any meaningful steps towards eliminating its nuclear arsenal

Against this background, the growing signs of frustration with North Korea in Washington in recent weeks were a problem for Kim. A shift in the climate could be seen in Trump’s decision to call off a planned trip to Pyongyang by his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. And in comments from the hawkish national security adviser, John Bolton, who expressed doubts about Kim’s willingness to abandon his nuclear weapons.

US president Donald Trump speaks at a press conference following the historic US-North Korea summit in Singapore on Tuesday. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
US president Donald Trump speaks at a press conference following the US-North Korea summit in Singapore in June. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Knowing of Trump’s susceptibility to flattery, Kim’s latest overture was a letter – “very warm, very positive”, in the words of press secretary Sarah Sanders – asking for a second meeting between the two men. The Trump administration immediately agreed.

It’s better that Trump and Kim are exchanging pleasantries than threats, of course. But there is no evidence that Pyongyang has taken any meaningful steps towards eliminating its nuclear arsenal. Trump appears to believe that when Kim talks about denuclearisation, he means giving up his own weapons. In fact, all he has signed up for is a vague aspiration for a nuclear-free region – one that would include the removal of the US nuclear umbrella over South Korea.

Another pointless summit will further strengthen Kim’s position while undermining those elements in the Trump administration who see that Trump is being played by a far more strategically-minded opponent.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.