Perils of that Trump-Kim Jong-un tête-a-tête

Sunday, March 11, 2018

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The proposed May meeting between United States President Donald Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong-un holds out the promise of peace on the Korean Peninsula and, at the same time, fears of the consequences if it all goes wrong.

The two leaders have been engaged in an escalating and dangerous exchange of threats which has degenerated into personal insults as the world watched with growing alarm, helplessly praying for good sense to prevail before it is too late.

Most people do not understand why North Korea seemed prepared to taunt the US, ignore China and unnerve the international community by continuing to develop and test missiles that can deliver nuclear bombs.

Some in the West portray it as insanity, but keen observers believe it is a carefully calculated, if not dangerous strategy by the North Koreans, who appear convinced that the US will attack them because of the Korean War and pointing to the fact that America dropped nuclear bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

For the talks to achieve meaningful results both sides need a heavy dose of reality.

For sure, the Koreans have long wanted a prestigious face-to-face meeting with an American president, showing that they are a force to contend with. More importantly, they want the US to withdraw its roughly 38,000 troops from the peninsula and lift the crippling sanctions against them.

The US wants the Koreans to abandon their nuclear weapons, release the three remaining American prisoners in North Korea, and send home the remains of American service members who fell in the Korean War which ended in 1953.

We don't expect that Mr Kim will give up his nukes. The Koreans believe that is what stands between them and regime change. Neither is it to be expected that Mr Trump will agree to remove all US troops from the peninsula.

Hopefully the planned meeting will not be used as a self-aggrandising, chest-thumping public relations gimmick by either leader to show who brought whom to the table.

A sizeable part of the world still wonders whether presidents Kim and Trump have the diplomatic sophistication, temperament, sense of responsibility, and the ability to put pragmatism before pride in order design a process of negotiation leading to peace.

Yet, this is a rare opportunity which should be viewed as an exploratory first step and one to build on the very discreet efforts by the Chinese — North Korea's most important trade and ideological partner — to nudge Mr Kim along the path of peace.

The Iran Nuclear Deal involving the most important western powers could be tweaked to satisfy the Americans and offered to the Koreans, in exchange for easing economic restrictions and increase in the flow of resources such as food, fuel and technology, which Korea badly lacks.

Better relations between the US and North Korea bring a real chance for reunification between North and South Korea, which both countries seem to yearn for, but which has eluded them despite decades of effort.

While we in this space are sanguine that the road ahead is long and precipitous, we nonetheless encourage the parties to press ahead. At the very least, the talks, in the short term, will pull us back from a potential nuclear shooting war that we are convinced no one can win.




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