Donald Trump claims to have mastered the art of the deal, but he might have been outwitted by a man almost four decades his junior.
Trump is canceling war games in Korea. China cheers
Did Kim Jong-un outmaneuver Donald Trump?
At the historic Singapore summit, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who made his first ever state visit only three months ago, got away with making only vague promises to denuclearize, but left the meeting with a big concession: a promise from Trump to suspend joint US-South Korea military exercises.
“North Korea wanted to continue to look like it is acting in good faith, maintain a positive atmosphere that relieves international interest in pressuring and isolating North Korea, buttress Kim Jong-un's domestic power, and give up as little as it could. By these measures, it clearly succeeded,” Mintaro Oba, a former US State Department official, told Inkstone.
The youngest Kim has accomplished what his grandfather Kim Il-sung and father Kim Jong-il didn’t.
Often characterized as a brutal dictator, Kim also became a darling of the international media, if only temporarily. During the summit, North Korea, the most isolated country in the world, was treated as the equal of the US.
The 34 year-old had surprised many with shrewd strategic maneuvering ahead of the talks. The summit itself only burnished that reputation.
Kim’s main victory was the suspension of long-running military exercises between the US and South Korea, which North Korea has always perceived as dress rehearsals for a real invasion.
This is essentially the “dual suspension” or “freeze for freeze” approach which North Korea and China have been advocating: North Korea would halt its nuclear and missile testing in exchange for end of joint military exercises.
North Korea’s gains came at little cost. Washington’s long-stated goal of CVID – complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement – was not included in the joint declaration signed by both leaders.
“It must have been at Kim’s insistence to not [include] CVID,” a senior South Korean official told the South China Morning Post, adding that any reference to the term within the agreement would have subjected Pyongyang to much tighter scrutiny.
North Korea has always insisted on a “phased and synchronous,” or “action-for-action” approach to giving up their nuclear weapons.
Follow-ups and sanctions
Kim Jong-un has emerged as the winner of the first round, but experts say it is too early to give a definitive judgment of Trump’s approach. Oba said further talks between the US and North Korea would be key.
“I was encouraged by the reference to follow-on negotiations led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo,” he said. “I am hopeful this will turn into a more sustained process of engagement between the United States and North Korea that will allow us to reduce tensions and make progress over time.”
Trump said sanctions against North Korea would remain in effect, which observers think is a good call.
Wondering if this is a propaganda video from North Korea? You aren’t alone.
“The US decision to keep the sanctions in place correctly provides Pyongyang a strong incentive to take action to dismantle the weapons,” Timothy R. Heath, a senior international defense research analyst with the RAND corporation, told Inkstone.
North Korea’s state news agency KCNA reported on Wednesday that Trump had agreed to lift sanctions, but not immediately. The Trump administration has not responded to the report.
The art of the deal certainly doesn’t endorse giving your opponent everything he wants, in exchange for little in return.
Additional reporting by Lee Jeong-ho and Kinling Lo