National Column: Trump’s momentum will be hard for him to contain

by Thomas Walkom

U.S. President Donald Trump has begun a rapprochement with North Korea that he will find difficult to reverse.

The final communique from Tuesday’s summit in Singapore between Trump and North Korean dictator
Kim Jong Un produced few substantial gains for the U.S. In particular, it repeats the vague language Kim has used before, committing North Korea only to “work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Exactly what Kim means by “complete denuclearization” is not clear. In the past, North Korea has argued that it would give up its atomic weapons only if the U.S. agreed to remove its nuclear protection from South Korea and Japan in return.

The Singapore communiquÈ also makes specific reference to the April 27 Panmunjon agreement between North and South Korea. In that declaration, Pyongyang agreed to denuclearization in the context of a wide-ranging peace treaty between the two Koreas that involved economic as well as political co-operation.

Trump has said heíll change tack and get aggressive again if Kim fails to do what he wants. After Singapore, he may have a rough time persuading the rest of the world to play along.

For what the Singapore summit did was demonstrate that Kim is not nuts. As Trump said, responding to reporters’ questions about the dictator’s abysmal human rights record, Kim may not be “nice.”

But heís serious leader who runs a country with serious national interests. In Singapore, he met the leader of the world’s most powerful nation as an equal.

The most compelling image from the summit was the background of intertwined U.S. and North Korean flags.

After Singapore, the U.S. will find it more difficult to persuade the rest of the world to maintain punishing economic sanctions against the now ever-so-reasonable North. As Trump told reporters, China is already easing its sanctions. Russia is questioning its utility and some in South Korea are doing the same.

The April 27 Panmunjon agreement on economic co-operation signed by Kim and South Korean
President Moon Jae-in can work properly only if Seoul drops its sanctions against Pyongyang.

In many ways, the Singapore summit was classic Trumpery.

The U.S. president was extravagant in his praise for Kim, whom he called “very talented,” and even more extravagant in his praise for himself.

Asked how he could be assured Kim would keep his word, Trump said he just knew.

“I know when someone wants to deal,” he told reporters. “I just feel it very strongly.”

He said he told the dictator that North Korea had “great beaches” that could be prime candidates for real estate development.

And without informing South Korea, he unilaterally called off the war games that Seoul and Washington have been conducting close to the North Korean border, noting that Pyongyang had found them “very provocative.”

Still, the often erratic U.S. president did the world a favour by meeting and, to a certain extent, being seduced by Kim. The Singapore declaration commits the two countries to work toward building a “lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.”

That means signing a peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War.

South Korea’s Moon got it right with his reaction to the summit.

In a statement, he said the Singapore declaration “will be regarded as a historic event that has helped break down the last remaining Cold War legacy on Earth

“We will be there together with North Korea along the way.”

Trump has created a momentum here that he will find difficult to contain. The two Koreas were already barrelling toward peace. By meeting Kim, the U.S. president has given them his blessing.

He might change his mind about the North Korean leader, just as he did about Canadaís Justin Trudeau.

But will the rest of the world fall into line behind Trump if he starts talking once more about unleashing fire and fury against this country of atomic weapons and nice beaches? I’m not sure it will.

Thomas Walkom is a Toronto-based columnist covering politics.
Follow him on Twitter: @tomwalkom
Copyright 2018-Torstar Syndication Services

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