Trump in Kim’s Land

The dynamic between the two leaders does not allow for greater optimism regarding a nuclear deal.

In an abrupt move, which is common in his foreign policy, President Donald Trump relaunched the negotiation of a nuclear deal with North Korea.

After the announcement, Trump became the first American president to set foot in the Asian country, which has been ruled by a bizarre Stalinist dynasty since 1948.

The act was widely symbolic and must be taken with a grain of salt. While it is obviously healthy to see decade-long adversaries armed with nuclear weapons staging gestures of understanding, it is important to highlight that the dynamic between Trump and the dictator Kim Jong Un does not leave room for excessive optimism.

This was the third encounter between the two, who almost got into a military confrontation in 2017 − when Kim sped up his ballistic missile program and demonstrated that he was close to having a weapon that, theoretically, would be able to launch a nuclear missile at the U.S.

In 2018, Trump caved and elevated the dictator to the status of his equal, in another event marked by the epithet “historical.” Pictures were spread worldwide, and promises were made. The effect did not last long.

Months later, in February of this year, both leaders disagreed about a denuclearization deal on the Korean Peninsula, which had never contained clearly defined terms.

Now, according to reports in The New York Times, the idea would be to suggest a freeze of Kim’s nuclear program, without interfering with the country’s existing arsenal of nuclear artifacts, which is estimated by specialists to contain between 20 and 60 warheads.

Trump’s most bellicose adviser, John Bolton, dismissed the report. But he has been racking up recent defeats, such as the situation involving the currently much more unstable nuclear crisis with Iran.

If this claim that negotiations have resumed is confirmed, it would be quite a victory for Kim, whose ascendancy over his emaciated public depends on displays of power. There will surely be warmongers pointing to deals of this kind to maintain that any regime, as aberrant as it may be, can be sustained if it has access to bombs.

The Republican president will be able to advertise that he contained the young dictator, which sounds good enough to launch his race for reelection in 2020.

Agreements to freeze arsenals do not have a good track record, historically. In 1994, Bill Clinton made the very same deal with Kim’s father, providing years of accomplishment that allowed the dictatorship to pave the way for its first nuclear test, in 2006. A hypothetical new deal like this would better serve Pyongyang than regional peace, let alone world peace.

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