Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un have finally met - but what does it actually mean?
There’s one thing for certain: this was an unprecedented event.
Donald Trump based his successful run for Presidency on the fact that he was an outsider; a political maverick who would be prepared to think outside the box and ignore convention in a bid to get things done - and he has continued that strategy ever since settling in to the White House.
Now, whether the results of this clean sweep approach have been good or bad, that’s for history (and quite possibly the US Senate) to judge, but there’s no doubt that it has led to this latest, historic occasion: the first sitting US President and North Korean leader to meet since the authoritarian state was founded in 1948.
Trump’s time as president has been marked by constant 180 degree turns on his approach to Kim Jong-un - insulting him, then saying he’d be willing to talk, then insulting him some more, with the rhetoric often ratcheted up to make a nuclear strike seem imminent; indeed, only three weeks ago a North Korean diplomat was warning of a “nuclear showdown” and saying that “We can also make the US taste an appalling tragedy it has neither experienced nor even imagined up to now.”
Trump cancelled the meeting then, suddenly, it was back on.
And then, on Tuesday 12 June, at a luxury hotel in Singapore’s Sentosa island, they finally met in public, before heading off for 38 minutes of talks, one-to-one, before being joined by advisors for a working lunch.
But let’s cut to the chase - what deal has been struck, and where does it leave us?
What was actually agreed?
At the end of the summit, the leaders signed a “comprehensive” document - yet did not say what had been agreed.
As ever, Trump declared that the meeting “went better than anybody could have expected” and said that “I think both sides will be very impressed with the result.” As ever, we can pretty much ignore what comes out of Trump’s mouth in terms of accuracy.
Eventually, the document was shown, with the BBC’s Laura Bicker identifying the four key points:
1. The United States and the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] commit to establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
2. The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
3. Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work towards the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
4. The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
What has Kim Jong-un won?
At first glance, Kim Jong-un and North Korea appear to be the clear winners of the summit.
They have won a clear propaganda victory, with everything about the summit stage managed in terms of optics to give legitimacy to the state of North Korea - from the entire concept of the two leaders meeting on level terms, to the North Korean flags side-by-side with US ones.
N.Koreans were adamant summit optics portray US & NK on level footing, per US official involved. "They wanted to make sure both in ceremony and in security...that we're presenting to the world an image that presents them as equals. The N. Koreans were very conscious of that." pic.twitter.com/GEdCEqILcU— Jeremy Diamond (@JDiamond1) June 12, 2018
This gives Jong-un a victory at home and abroad: domestically it shows that he is a powerful leader who has forced the US to buckle to his demands, and internationally, if he is being recognised by the US, then other countries will probably follow suit.
It also potentially emboldens other countries with nuclear ambitions to pursue them: after all, the only reason Trump came to the table is because North Korea has successfully developed Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles.
Early readings of the document suggest that nothing that was not already in place has been agreed.
So this is NOT new- Summit agreement.... "Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula." REAFFIRMING. TO WORK TOWARDS... This is an intention only.— Bill Neely (@BillNeelyNBC) June 12, 2018
Wow. If this is it... this is depressing. This is even thinner than most skeptics anticipated. I figured Trump wd at least get some missiles or a site closure or something concrete: https://t.co/tvhLVnlXpj. This looks pretty generic. Maybe there will be some surprise in presser? https://t.co/BbzZaeCzo0— Robert E Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly) June 12, 2018
So it looks as though Trump has got no concessions from North Korea, in exchange for legitimising what is still a rogue state.
You can correctly say that the deal has cost Trump nothing - yet the things he has given Jong-un were important for him, and could only be given once; and it appears that he has given them up for nothing.
As it stands, Jong-un is under no obligation to denuclearise.
*Update*: It now seems that Trump also agreed to stop the joint US and South Korea military exercises, something which North Korea have railed against for decades.
*Further update*: It seems no one told the US Military.
Trump just admitted to a YUGE concession, he will be stopping U.S.-South Korea military exercises. “We will be stopping the war games... I think it’s very provocative.” Wow.— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) June 12, 2018
What has Trump won?
We can - and will - criticise Trump, but it is worth noting that any meeting, and any dialogue is potentially better than nothing. He will have had a chance to at least attempt to work Jong-un out to see what he is dealing with - and who knows what they really talked about in that meeting. You would like to think that two sides with contact are less likely to go to war - but then that’s not stopped anyone in the past.
However, while North Korea have seemingly given up nothing, the US doesn’t appear to have given up anything in terms of the lifting of sanctions and so on; and these are still highly desirable to Jong-un, given the crumbling nature of the North Korean economy.
Trump, also, let’s not forget, has won a huge propaganda victory to his base - or to anyone who doesn’t actually read any of the analysis.
“He’s done something that Obama never did, that’s good right?”
Well, there’s a reason Obama never did it…
*Update:* Trump said in a press conference afterwards thatKim had told him North Korea was destroying a major engine-testing site used for missiles. However, the details had not all been worked out because there was not enough time. However, this is obviously not included in the agreement.
What happens next?
Jong-un cannot rule North Korea as he currently does forever. The suppression of the media and the internet can only last for so long in such a connected, advanced world, and sooner or later his people will realise that the living standards of the rest of the globe are far beyond what they have.
He will need to open up the country at some point to stay in power, and he will need sanctions lifting; it is for this more than any moves by Trump that he has come to the table.
However, will he actually follow any path to denuclearise? They are (if you pardon the pun) his trump card and, despite international criticism, his policy of attaining them at all costs has absolutely, completely, paid off. So he will think very, very carefully before giving any of them up.
At some point, someone will have to call the other’s bluff. Would Jong-un really fire a nuclear missile at anyone? His country would face certain obliteration. Or would he gamble that no country would condemn an entirely innocent population to death on the actions of a single man?
Or is he desperate enough for sanctions to be lifted that he’ll actually go through on his word to entertain the idea of denuclearisation?
Most importantly, for the next few years at least, does Trump possess the political and intellectual know-how to work this out?