Two Years Since Singapore: Did Kim Jong Un, How Trump Offered Kim A Ride On Air Force One



APLN thành viên Cheong Wook-Sik writes on the final correspondence between the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and then-President Donald Trump of the US. Read the original article here.

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The final correspondence between the two leaders highlights Kim’s state of mind following the breakdown of the Hanoi summit, which in turn mix the direction for the years to follow.

The last of the 27 letters released by the Korean-American Club, an association of current và former Korean foreign correspondents in the US, was sent by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un khổng lồ then-President Donald Trump of the US on Aug. 5, 2019.

The word “idiot” appears twice in this letter. It can be found once in the line, “If you do not think of our relationship as a stepping stone that only benefits you, then you would not make me look lượt thích an idiot that will only give without getting anything in return.” The next time it crops up is in reference to lớn the “idiots” in the South, who Kim writes of having surprised with their meeting, apparently finding some humor in that fact.

The reason why “idiot” stands out as a từ khoá is not only because it is highly unusual lớn see such an expression in the correspondence between heads of state, but also because it clearly expresses how Kim Jong-un was feeling at the time. The disappointment felt by Kim underpinned his determination lớn place nuclear weapons at the center of his national security strategy, self-reliance at the center of his economic strategy, and china and Russia at the center of his diplomatic strategy.

Promise unkept

Kim, who had spent more than 120 hours on a train between Pyongyang & Hanoi, was greatly shocked when the second North Korea-US summit, held in Hanoi at the kết thúc of February 2019, ended without a deal. As if he felt sorry for this outcome, Trump sent a letter on March 22 lớn comfort Kim.

Trump sent his greetings ahead of the “upcoming anniversary” of the birth of Kim Il-sung, calling Kim Jong-un’s grandfather the “founder of your great nation.” Trump wrote of the great hopes và expectations he had lớn achieve something with the younger Kim in the months and years to lớn come, so long as the two held fast to lớn their common goals.

Perhaps when he received the letter, Kim thought, “I am going to lớn give this another go even though I hate him.” In a reply sent 80 days later, Kim wrote, “I also believe that the deep và special friendship between us will act as a magical force” that will bring about progress in North Korea-US relations, adding, “I believe the one day will come sooner or later when we sit down together to lớn make great things happen.”

Two days later, Trump responded with “I completely agree.” However, a strange war of nerves was also taking place. While Kim preferred a summit, Trump suggested working-level talks, proposing that each side’s negotiating teams meet again within a few weeks. In fact, the Trump administration proposed working-level talks khổng lồ North Korea several times, but the North remained silent.

Things began to change at the kết thúc of June. At the time, Trump was scheduled to lớn visit Seoul following the G20 summit held in Osaka, Japan. However, on the morning of June 29, just before departing for Seoul, he tweeted, “While there, if Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to lớn shake his hand và say Hello(?)!”

Trump had been asking khổng lồ hold working-level talks before a potential summit, và the US State Department had maintained that the two leaders had no plans to meet until just before they actually did. What was the reason behind Trump’s sudden proposal to lớn meet at the DMZ? Trump had complained at the G20 summit that US media coverage of him was lacking as the American media was instead focused on the Democratic các buổi party presidential debate on television.

Eventually, Trump’s surprise proposal paid off: US truyền thông headlines soon shifted their focus to his tweet.

Confused by whether Trump’s proposal was sincere or a joke, Kim requested formal diplomatic correspondence. Upon this request, Trump wrote him a personal letter that said, “I will be near the DMZ in the afternoon & propose a meeting at 3:30 at the Peace House on the southern side of the military demarcation line.”

Kim accepted the proposal, and President Moon Jae-in accompanied Trump khổng lồ this spontaneous meeting. Initially, Trump had said that he was meeting Kim “with no specific agenda” and, “If there, we’ll see each other for two minutes, that’s all we can, but that will be fine.”

But the meeting between the two leaders carried on for 40 minutes, with Trump promising to lớn cancel South Korea-US joint exercises scheduled for August. Kim reciprocated by saying that he would accept working-level talks with the US and proposed for such talks khổng lồ take place in August.

However, an American announcement canceling the August joint exercises never came. Rather, according khổng lồ then-US national security advisor John Bolton, Bolton had met with his South Korean counterpart, bình thường Eui-yong, on July 24 & agreed to lớn go through with the scheduled drills.

As this ensued, Kim offered some “advice” while at a short-range missile test. First, he criticized what he saw as “double-dealing behavior” by South Korea in terms of performing a “handshake of peace” in public while importing weapons and holding joint military exercises behind the scene. He then advised South Korea to lớn “stop reckless suicidal acts và come back to the proper at an early date.”

However, the Moon administration paid more attention lớn the missile launch than to lớn Kim’s “advice.” Calling it a “provocation” & “threat,” then Minister of National Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo said that the South would consider the Kim regime and the North Korean military as “enemies” if Pyongyang continued its provocations. The Ministry of National Defense also announced in early August that it would conduct joint exercises later that month.

Following this, Kim penned a long letter to lớn Trump on Aug. 5, in which he wrote, “My belief was that the provocative combined military exercises would either be cancelled or postponed ahead of our two countries’ working-level negotiations where we would continue to lớn discuss important matters.”

“Against whom is the combined military exercises taking place in the southern part of the Korean Peninsula, who are they trying to block, và who are they intended to lớn defeat and attack?” Kim wrote.

The mô tả tìm kiếm of the Moon administration as “idiotic” came in this context. Kim also expressed that he had no intention of holding working-level talks under such circumstances.

No deal

While Kim was nursing feelings of disappointment and betrayal toward South Korea và the US, Trump was boasting. In one letter, Kim asked, “What has Your Excellency done, and what am I khổng lồ explain to my people about what has changed since we met?”

This was the context behind his sentence about not being treated like an “idiot,” with its overtones of shame. But in contrast with the apparent nervousness of his previous correspondence, Kim stressed, “But we are in a different situation, & we are not in a hurry.”

Indeed, working-level talks held in Stockholm on Oct. 5 of that year ended without a deal. The crucial factor was the matter of sanctions. Prior to the meeting, Trump stressed that the sanctions needed khổng lồ be kept in place, & the US negotiation team insisted that sanctions should be an exception khổng lồ the “simultaneously and in parallel” approach.

In response, Pyongyang declared that a khuyến mãi was off the table, citing its “survival & development rights” and the fact that there had been no change in Washington’s stance on the sanctions issue. Kim’s sense of foreboding proved lớn be on target.

Image: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (left) greets South Korean President Moon Jae-in during their meeting in Panmunjom in 2019. Donald Trump of the US stands behind the leaders of the two Koreas. (KCNA)

The last four years proved once again that Kim Jing-un is rational and therefore able to lớn be deterred – not the madman with nukes that is so often portrayed – & that he is sufficiently interested in talks to lớn voluntarily halt nuclear & long-range missile tests while they were going on, to lớn slow his march if not lớn halt it altogether.

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Modern Korean History
Conflict Resolution & Peacebuilding
Strategic Competition
North Korea
United States

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U.S. President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea. October 12, 2020.

It’s easy to criticize Donald Trump on North Korea: the declarations of love for a brutal dictator, the disdain for details và history, the photo opportunities where the strategy should have been, but while the execution may have been lacking, he did attempt a new approach, & that offers important lessons for the incoming administration.

It did not get off to lớn an auspicious start. During Trump’s first year in office, Kim Jong-un tested his first intercontinental ballistic missiles, demonstrating the potential khổng lồ reach the U.S. Homeland for the first time, along with a slew of short và medium-range projectiles và what appeared to lớn be his first hydrogen bomb.

Trump threatened him with “fire và fury lượt thích the world has never seen.” The two leaders traded insults. Tensions ratcheted up. By the fall of 2017 conflict looked lượt thích a real possibility. Kim was pictured studying strike plans with the head of his strategic forces. Jim Mattis, then U.S. Defense Secretary, slept in his clothes khổng lồ be ready khổng lồ give the order lớn shoot down an incoming North Korean missile. In a rare show of unity from the permanent members of the UN Security Council, even đài loan trung quốc and Russia were persuaded khổng lồ back tough new sanctions on Pyongyang.

But then Kim Jong-un declared victory, proclaiming his nuclear force complete và abruptly shifting his attention khổng lồ diplomacy. He still talked about the “nuclear button” on his desk, but he also sent his sister to lớn the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea –the first member of the Kim family lớn cross the border since the Korean War – and he invited Donald Trump lớn meet him “as soon as possible,” who quickly agreed.

But it was the summit with Donald Trump in Singapore in June 2018 that made history, as Kim Jong Un became the first North Korean leader to meet a sitting U.S. President – a feat neither his father nor his grandfather achieved.

Kim’s relations with china had been seriously strained by his repeated nuclear & missile tests, but with the news that a meeting with Trump was on the cards they underwent a rapid thaw. Within the month he was in Beijing, where he was welcomed as a guest of honor by Chinese Communist tiệc nhỏ leader Xi Jinping and the two men put on a convincing show of forgetting their recent differences. He strengthened ties with Russia too, later dining with Vladimir Putin at a glitzy gala in Vladivostok. But it was the summit with Donald Trump in Singapore in June 2018 that made history, as Kim Jong Un became the first North Korean leader to lớn meet a sitting U.S. President – a feat neither his father nor his grandfather achieved.

By meeting Kim, Trump was accused of legitimizing the young dictator & playing into his domestic propaganda – both of which were valid concerns – but that doesn’t mean direct engagement was necessarily wrong. Refusing to talk lớn Kim hadn’t stopped him from developing nuclear weapons so far, and in North Korea’s top-down political system he was the only one capable of making real concessions. In short, it was worth a try.

But from the outset the implementation was flawed. Trump treated the summit as a victory in itself, reveling in the truyền thông media attention và acting as though he had pulled off something truly remarkable by persuading Kim khổng lồ meet, when in fact North Korean leaders had long sought the prestige such an sự kiện would bring. Kim wasn’t conceding anything by sitting down with Trump – just the opposite – he was proving that his strategy had worked, that by developing nuclear weapons he had forced the hostile imperialist enemy (as the United States is depicted in North Korea) to take him seriously & to treat the country with the dignity and respect it deserved. The photographs of Trump listening attentively to lớn Kim, the cheering crowds, and the North Korean flag flying alongside the Stars and Stripes only underlined his point.

The summits themselves delivered little of substance for either side. Kim offered the same vague commitment to lớn denuclearization his predecessors had given, sticking with the regime’s preferred formulation on the removal of weapons from the “Korean peninsula,” potentially including every U.S. Base from which it could be targeted, rather than just North Korea. Trump rejected Kim’s proposal khổng lồ dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear facility in return for lifting sanctions, choosing instead lớn walk away from their second summit in Hanoi. Their final meeting on the border between North & South Korea amounted khổng lồ barely more than a photocall. But along the way, the American president threw in some unexpected bonuses.

And undermined his own officials, inadvertently signaling to lớn Pyongyang that any working cấp độ agreements could be quickly overturned by the presidential Twitter account & they should hold out for another summit with the leader instead.

Speaking lớn the press after the Singapore summit, Trump called the United States’ joint military exercises with South Korea “war games” & “very provocative” – terms more commonly used by Pyongyang – announcing that he was canceling them, apparently without consulting his own generals or Seoul. He publicly và repeatedly complained about the cost of keeping U.S. Troops in South Korea, demanding Moon Jae-in’s government pay more and questioning the value of regional alliances. & he undermined his own officials, inadvertently signaling lớn Pyongyang that any working màn chơi agreements could be quickly overturned by the presidential Twitter account & they should hold out for another summit with the leader instead.

By the kết thúc of Trump’s term, the talks had petered out và he had little more to show for his efforts than a drawer full of flattering letters. For all of the talk of their great personal relationship, Kim Jong Un had only advanced his capabilities once again. At a military parade in October, he rolled out his biggest intercontinental ballistic missile yet, immediately dubbed the “monster missile” by analysts. Donald Trump could only add his name to lớn the các mục of American presidents who had tried & failed to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions before him.

But that doesn’t mean there is nothing to lớn learn. The failure of Trump’s talks doesn’t mean that all talks are doomed khổng lồ fail. By agreeing khổng lồ meet Kim at all, Trump handed him some powerful domestic propaganda, but his other major gifts – cancelling military exercises, questioning the U.S. Troop presence, undermining alliances – were given away in press conferences và tweets, not at the negotiating table. Talks that were preceded by serious working-level preparations & conducted by a president who worked with allies and stuck to lớn his script, might have looked very different. But Trump has at least lowered the cost for Biden to meet Kim should he eventually decide to do so, inoculating him against some of the inevitable criticism that he is showing weakness by sitting down with a dictator when a Republican president has done so first.

The last four years also proved once again that Kim Jing-un is rational và therefore able to lớn be deterred – not the madman with nukes that is so often portrayed – và that he is sufficiently interested in talks khổng lồ voluntarily halt nuclear and long-range missile tests while they were going on, lớn slow his march if not lớn halt it altogether. In the meantime, his own domestic pressures have only increased. Last month Kim tearfully apologized to lớn his citizens for failing khổng lồ improve their lives và repay their trust in him as the country’s economy continues lớn struggle under the weight of sanctions và the coronavirus pandemic. He might be persuaded lớn hold off testing his new “monster missile” if he believes he stands to lớn gain from another round of dialogue with the Biden team.

Finally, & perhaps counterintuitively given where they ended up, the Trump years showed that the United States was able to lớn work together with china and Russia khổng lồ put serious pressure on Pyongyang, that there were limits to the behavior they were prepared to lớn tolerate. As relations between Washington and Beijing now rapidly spiral down, the need lớn contain the nuclear threat from North Korea may be one thing they can agree on.

This article originally appeared on The National Interest.

Katie Stallard is a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson international Center for Scholars and author of the forthcoming book nhảy đầm on Bones: History và Power in China, Russia, và North Korea, to lớn be published by Oxford University Press. 

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