Trump calls a timeout at Hanoi summit, sends Kim back to Pyongyang to persuade his generals
Media jackals predictably are braying that President Trump failed at the Hanoi summit. Nothing could be farther from the truth. President Trump wisely sent North Korea's dictator, Kim Jong-un, back to Pyongyang from Hanoi, where he can tell the generals and security police commanders, on whose support he depends, that they are not going to get sanctions relief without giving up their nuclear arsenal.
There is every sign that this outcome in Hanoi is a predictable stage in the process of obtaining consensus among the North Korean ruling class that they must give up on the strategy of confrontation and isolation, with their survival guaranteed solely by nukes, and instead open up to the outside world and the prosperity market economies can generate.
MSNBC screen grab.
But, of course, the Trump-hating media have leaped to the conclusion that the summit was a huge failure because President Trump sent Chairman Kim back home to Pyongyang with the message that ending the sanctions will require complete, verifiable denuclearization.
The AP rushed to judge the talks a failure, headlining, "Trump, Kim summit collapses amid failure to reach deal" in a dispatch that took six reporters as authors or contributors to publish. It called the premature end to the talks "a dispiriting end to high-stakes meetings meant to disarm a global threat."
This is pure propaganda.
President Trump abundantly signaled that he is not in a hurry for a deal — any deal — at the expense of getting a suboptimal result. He set the expectation that, while optimistic about eventually getting to his goal of denuclearization, it might be a longer process than the short attention span media would prefer.
The Washington Post explains where agreement could not be reached:
Trump said Kim promised he would not conduct missile launches or test nuclear weapons. And he said Kim was willing to close the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Complex, the site of North Korea's main nuclear reactor and its only source of plutonium to make bombs. But Trump said other covert facilities to enrich uranium had not been offered up.
Trump zeroed in on sanctions as the key sticking point in his talks with Kim.
"It was about the sanctions," he said. "Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn't do that. They were willing to denuke a large portion of the areas that we wanted, but we couldn't give up all of the sanctions for that." ...
"Chairman Kim and myself, we want to do the right deal. Speed is not important," he said.
And Kim said he was ready to denuclearize, at least in principle. "If I'm not willing to do that, I wouldn't be here right now," he said through an interpreter. ...
Asked if he were confident that the pair would reach a deal, Kim was equally guarded.
"It's too early to tell. I won't prejudge," Kim said in reply to the question from a Washington Post reporter, a rare response from a North Korean leader to an independent journalist. "From what I feel right now, I do have a feeling that good results will come."
It is clear from Kim's language that the talks didn't "collapse" into bitterness and a refusal to proceed. Both leaders remained cordial and continue to affirm their mutual goal of getting to a deal. So far as I have been able to discover, this was the first time a North Korean leader has ever faced a press conference with Western media asking questions. That in itself is a significant factor in opening up North Korea to the process of getting toward acting as a normal country does. It is a long process, to be sure, but this is a step in the right direction.
Many people wrongly assume that because North Korea is an absolute dictatorship, Kim can do anything he wishes, and his putative subordinates will go along with it. This is not my understanding of the real power structure in that benighted country. The young dictator depends on the loyalty of the commanders of troops and police who have the weapons that could overthrow him and install someone more to their liking. This threat is why he had his half-brother assassinated at Kuala Lumpur Airport, since having the blood of the Kim dynasty seems to be an essential attribute of a leader there. But if the military and security force commanders see an existential threat to their survival in power, they could still overthrow Kim and install another leader, finding grounds to claim legitimacy.
Now Kim must make another long three-and-a-half-day rail journey back to Pyongyang, where he must deliver the message that Trump won't fall for anything less than what he demands. I have not been able to discover if Kim's planned extra two days in Hanoi following the summit will be cut short. If so, that will be a lost opportunity, for Kim would have heard from his communist brothers in Vietnam about the many benefits of opening to the West and of how the Americans can be really helpful in dealing with the Chinese, who regard all of the East Asian neighbors as tributary states, properly subordinate to the Middle Kingdom, as they have been for millennia. He would also notice that the population in Vietnam is pretty happy with the economic progress that has improved their standard of living and supports their communist dictatorship because it is materially upgrading their lives.
Two comparisons leap to mind — one in which the media made the same bogus claims of failure and a second one in which an actual failure was labeled a triumph by many media outlets.
President Reagan walked out on the Reykjavik Summit with Mikhail Gorbachev in October 1986:
After the negotiations broke down without a final agreement, Reagan wrote that he left the meeting knowing how close they had come to achieving his long goal of eliminating the threat of nuclear destruction, and that this was the angriest moment of his career.
Despite failing to achieve either man's ultimate goal, Reykjavik will be recorded as one of the most important summits in history. A year after Reykjavik the U.S. and Soviet Union signed the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), for the first time eliminating an entire class of nuclear weapons. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) was signed a few years later during President H.W Bush's term.
None of this progress would have been possible without the courage of two leaders to look beyond past hostilities and forge a new and lasting relationship, that would soon provide greater security for people around the world.
It should be noted that the USSR soon was relegated to the ash heap of history. But at the time, the U.S. media, which loudly proclaimed Reagan an "amiable dunce," was full of condemnation of President Reagan for this breakdown in talks.
The second comparison is an utter contrast: the way the Obama administration caved in to Iranian demands and produced the JCPOA agreement, sending billions of dollars to the chief sponsors of terrorism in the world and obtaining an agreement that allowed full nuclearization of Iran in ten years — an agreement that now is all but defunct.