Why Trump and Kim Jong-un may be perfect partners to strike a deal
In Pyongyang there’d be no ugly protests as the Americans would have had to put up with in London. Quite the opposite: Pyongyang would provide the biggest crowds President Trump has ever attracted, including at his inauguration. Period
Can you believe it? What’s it going to be like? Where will they meet?
Some of us have been hoping, praying even, that Donald Trump would meet Kim Jong-un. This is because we all enjoy a bit of a show, and that would constitute quite a spectacle, and, obviously a second priority for a journalist, it will make the world safer. So, great.
Wherever the Trump-Kim summit takes place, it will obviously be historic. It will certainly rival the Reagan-Gorbachev summits that heralded the end of the Cold War, and, one hopes, with the same effects. If, again as some of us dreamed, Donald Trump, the great dealmaker as he likes to be known, journeys to Pyongyang to make the ultimate deal of his career, the optics would be unimaginably spectacular. It would make Nixon’s 1972 trip to China look like a coach trip to Stow-on-the-Wold.
Imagine. Trump touching down on Air Force One on North Korean soil. The handshake (Donald might think better of administering one of his painful specials). The families – both men heading a considerable dynasty, both living under a shadow of expectations bequeathed by their respective fathers and grandfathers. The eccentric hairstyles favoured by both men. The playful comparison of the respective sizes of their nuclear buttons (“you show me yours first”). The mass games and huge military parades that would be laid on for the United States delegation. They would be the centre of the globe’s attention, and rightly so – surely an irresistible incentive. Dennis Rodman should be there, an old mate of Kim, and Melania and Ivanka Trump could join in with the likes of the Moranbong Band, North Korea’s girl band, and pop weaponry of mass destruction. However, some North Korean lyrics will need to be revised for the official visit. After all, the Trumps might not take lines like “attack the ambitious American wolves” the right way, or this memorable verse:
“Aim the gun barrel!
We stand guarding the motherland
With the capacity to deflect the armour-piercing shells of the enemy.
Taste the power of socialist Korea!”
Also, in Pyongyang there’d be no ugly protests like the Americans would have had to put up with in London. Quite the opposite: Pyongyang would provide the biggest crowds President Trump has ever attracted, including at his inauguration. Period.
I know. We may have to settle for less. When Reagan met Gorbachev, in the earliest stages of the thaw between America and the Soviet Union in the 1980s, they chose sleepy halfway houses – Geneva and Reykjavik – before meeting in Washington and Moscow. Switzerland was where Kim was educated, and where he picked up a taste for basketball (hence the Rodman link), Johnny Walker scotch, Yves Saint Laurent cigarettes and contracted a cheese addiction. Beijing would be an odder choice, one superpower hosting another (plus a pretend superpower); Moscow a bit touchy all round; Paris would love to provide the hospitality, and the best cheese and finest wines, and you may bet that Emmanuel Macron has already offered his services. Seoul would be a bit odd, given everything; Tokyo even odder, given the historic animosities and the kidnapping by North Korean subs of hapless Japanese citizens taking strolls on the beach. There are few parts of the world where both Kim and Trump are popular.
Wherever they turn up though, both men will, correctly, claim vindication. Kim can show to his clique and the wider North Korean people that his tough language and aggressive nuclear programme has earned the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea respect and equal standing with the United States – an ambition Kim 1 and Kim 2 failed in. President Trump will be seen to have been right to tighten sanctions, up the rhetoric and carry on with threatening the hermit kingdom with annihilation. So distrustful was the hardline Trump administration that it has been left with few Korean foreign policy experts and the post of ambassador in Seoul remains vacant.
The South Koreans, for their part, will feel gratified that their Winter Olympics diplomatic charm offensive worked so magnificently well. Like the “ping pong” diplomacy of the early 1970s, when the first sporting links between the US and Red China were opened up through the harmless game of table tennis, sport has proved a startlingly useful weapon of soft power. That was how Nixon, the great communist-baiting cold warrior, came to shake Chairman Mao’s hand.
What do the two egos want? Kim wants security. He doesn’t have nuclear weapons just for the hell of it. He has them because he fears the Americans will do to him what they did to Gaddafi and Saddam and (tried to do) to Assad. He and his family fear that more than anything. With nukes (which the others either failed to develop – even with DPRK help – or voluntarily gave up), he has his leverage and his deterrent.
So Trump has to find some way of guaranteeing the existence of the Kim regime – and the administration has indicated already it is not interested in “regime change” in Pyongyang. Donald Trump does not have the same crusading democratic zeal as George W Bush, for example. Kim can keep his gulags.
For Trump, denuclearisation of North Korea is the obvious goal, and he might be tempted to withdraw US troops and weaponry from South Korea in return for it. This would allow both sides to declare victory and move on. Move on, that is, to a massive investment by the West in North Korea’s economy, though one that will suit the North Koreans’ strange brand of socialism. It is the last Stalinist state on earth, but maybe Samsung, Hyundai, Toyota and Apple can find a way of doing business with it. Mr Trump might even create a few American jobs out of it all.
There is so much that Kim and Trump have in common that the personal chemistry might well not work; huge egos, childlike tantrums, massive psychological insecurities – the usual stuff we all know about. Yet because they are so alike it may be that they understand each other better, which will help things. The Deal may be at hand.