Second-Round Stakes Higher for Trump and Kim

The North Korea leader obviously wants a deal, writes Patrick Lawrence, which gives the U.S. a historic opportunity next month.

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

President Donald Trump’s announcement late last week that he will meet North Korea’s Kim Jong-un next month promises a significant result whether the encounter succeeds or fails. In the intervening weeks, we have two questions to ponder.

No. 1: what will this second summit accomplish? The first Trump–Kim meeting last June in Singapore was about establishing rapport and can by this measure be counted a success. Something of substance, however modest, needs to get done this time.

No. 2, and just as important, will Trump’s foreign policy minders undermine this encounter before it takes place? The record suggests this is a serious possibility.

A month ago, Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. special forces from Syria. The howls of protest, Capitol Hill Democrats often the shrillest, have not ceased. And troops have not started to pack their duffle bags.

But the Syria decision may prove a turning point, given that Trump directly confronted the policy clique — segments of the Pentagon and State Department bureaucracies, as well as members of the National Security Council —who have been sabotaging his objectives since his first day in office two years ago.

Trump and Kim shaking hands. than a handshake next time. (Wikimedia)

Trump and Kim: Ready to meet again. (Wikimedia)

Steve Bannon, once and briefly Trumps’ strategic adviser, put it this way after the withdrawal announcement: “The apparatus slow-rolled him until he just said enough and did it himself. Not pretty, but at least done.”

Will the second Trump–Kim summit prompt another such showdown with “the apparatus” around Trump?

It could. John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, is a hyper-hawk on North Korea. Behind him, the Pentagon finds the prospect of lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula a threat to its immense presence in Northeast Asia. Be wary in coming weeks of vaguely sourced press reports citing newly discovered North Korean treachery, betrayals, and deceits.

More For, Than Against

On balance, however, Trump and Kim appear to have more going for them than against them this time.

Now that the policy cliques and the press have run out of playground epithets for Kim—monster, merciless murderer, and so on—it is generally acknowledged that however autocratic, he is a young but capable statesman. In his new year’s message, he confirmed that national policy has now shifted decisively toward economic development as the North’s top priority.

John Bolton adjusting eyeglasses

John Bolton, 2017, at Conservative Political Action Conference, in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore on Flickr)

While Washington and its clerks in the corporate press give Kim no credit, he has already made numerous gestures intended to appease American hawks such as Bolton, build confidence, and signal his desire to be, in effect, a modernizing dictator somewhat in the mold of China’s former leader, the late Deng Xiaoping.

Kim has halted all nuclear and missile testing, destroyed a nuclear-testing site, offered to pull back artillery from the 38th parallelwhich now divides North and South Korea, and returned the remains of some American soldiers killed in the 1950–53 war. North and South have also demilitarized a “truce town.”  

Kim wants a deal—there are no serious grounds to question this—and is surely smart enough to know he has to bring something impressive to the table next month. Just what this will be is not clear. It is easier to anticipate what he will not concede: the reciprocal diplomatic process that Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, calls “action for action.” It is the only rational, workable way to go forward after almost seven decades of mutual distrust and animosity. 

Development Planning  

Moon has remained remarkably energetic in behalf of a North–South settlement. His country, along with Russia and China, have drawn up development plans to connect the North and its neighbors — rails, roads, airports, seaports, power plants, refineries, and so on — that has something for everybody: The North acquires the foundation for a modern economy, South Korea gains land routes to Chinese, Russian, and European markets, Russia develops its Far East, and China can do more business with both North and South. A map of this plan shows three development belts: Two are to run down the Korean Peninsula’s western and eastern coastlines from the Chinese and Russian borders respectively. The third will run west to east across the 38th parallel. Moon wants these links eventually to connect South Korea to the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Trans-Siberian Express at Novosibirsk stop. (Vera &

Trans-Siberian Express at Novosibirsk stop. (Vera & Jean-Christophe on Flickr)

The numbers bandied about are extraordinary. While Seoul has allocated a modest $260 million to improve cross-border rail links this year, that is merely the beginning. The Korea Rail Network Authority, a government agency, estimates that upgrading the North’s roads and rails alone will cost roughly $38 billion before it is done. At the time of the first Trump–Kim summit, Citicorp put the cost of rebuilding all of the North’s infrastructure at $63 billion.  

These plans have advanced steadily since the first Trump–Kim meeting. But coverage in the mainstream American press is far from abundant.

By all appearances, the U.S. is simply not interested in a constructive settlement in Northeast Asia, even as other nations proceed to develop one. This is a perfect illustration of what happens when a nation is intent only on the projection of its power. 

It is anyone’s guess what Trump will bring to his summit with Kim. But it is clear what would produce a breakthrough if Trump truly wants one. First, he can exempt some of Moon’s cross-border development plans from sanctions that now inhibit them. Second, he can relax the ridiculous demand that the North completes its denuclearization before Washington concedes anything. “Give us all we want and then we negotiate” is not a position from which to expect any gains.

Given Kim’s aspirations and the diplomatic efforts of Seoul, Moscow, and Beijing, the opportunity for a settlement of the Korean question has not been this promising since the 1953 armistice. At the same time, Washington has rarely been so uncertain of its power—and hence so eager to display it—and we have a president surrounded by advisors given to neutralizing his better policy objectives.

If Trump and Kim get something done a month from now, we could be on the way to peace in Northeast Asia after 66 years of high tension. If they fail, or if Trump gets the Syria treatment, many years are likely to pass before a moment this propitious comes again.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale).

Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is www.patricklawrence.us. Support his work via www.patreon.com/thefloutist.

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36 comments for “Second-Round Stakes Higher for Trump and Kim

  1. January 26, 2019 at 10:34

    President Trump has gotten us this far and can secure a legacy as
    a nation builder and negotiator. Perhaps it is time for him to change
    his advisors, who have not been elected by the people and who just
    may be representing the interest of other oreign countries, albeit some of
    our so-called Allies.

  2. ronnie mitchell
    January 25, 2019 at 13:46

    As Tulsi Gabbard pointed out in a few tweets tRump/USA can’t be trusted because as the US talks about a peaceful agreement, that they aren’t about regime, at the same time they are threatening regime change in Venezuela and both North and South Korea are certainly watching that as it happens.
    I think both sides of Korea should settle this between themselves and right now keeping nuclear weapons may be their only protection from the US in the long run.
    I can’t help but think that before Gaddafi was sodomized by a bayonet, then killed as he begged for his life he thought back about when he disarmed, giving up weaponry to prove he was no threat to any Country was a fatal mistake for both him and his Country.
    This was noted by the North Korean leader with no disagreement from his counterpart in the South and who knows when like in Venezuela the US will ‘appoint’ another leader for them both.
    The biggest obstacle to peace on this planet is the USA and it has gotten worse since MLK Jr. called the US “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” and this isn’t changing until enough Countries band together to stop us one way or the other.

  3. michael
    January 25, 2019 at 08:10

    Good article. It is important that only Trump and Kim (and maybe Moon) and translators be allowed to discuss issues in private (as with Putin and Trump in Helsinki). Bolton, Pence and Pompeo need to be kept away with their “Libya model”; they are intent on screwing things up. Only two crazy people allowed in the room at a time.

    • January 26, 2019 at 10:35

      Perhaps leave them out of the administration. Michael

  4. mike k
    January 25, 2019 at 06:38

    Is a fake peace really better than a fake sabre rattling? Maybe, but does it bring a real peace any closer, or just give the warmongers a needed breathing spell to regroup their forces?

  5. michael crockett
    January 25, 2019 at 03:39

    There are many good comments here. I think it makes sense for Moon Jae-in and Kim jong-un to find a third way, when it comes to the economy, by taking the best parts of socialism and capitalism to form a more perfect union. Creating an alignment with Russia and China, through thoughtfully crafted trade deals that mesh with a vibrant diplomacy, could be the best way forward. Both Presidents want peace on the peninsula. Unfortunately, the US with its troops and weapons in South Korea are one big road block. Democrats have their Neo-con wing and Trump has Bolton. Not good. However, the National Security Adviser (Bolton) is an Appointed position to the President. He can be fired and replaced by Trump without a vote of approval by Congress. Trump should do this before the second summit takes place. He may have to fire some generals in the Pentagon as well. I say to hell with them. Do whatever you have to do Trump to be the peace President. Throw caution to the wind and be bold. What are the pitfalls to a negotiated settlement? One would be the mistake on Trumps part should he fail to make any concessions. With out some give and take the process brakes down and all trust will disappear. Then we are back on a war footing and the Neo-cons (Republicans and Democrats) get a win. Now is it saber rattling Trump? So many countries to invade. Maybe North Korea? Maybe too dangerous? Maybe Iran? Maybe too dangerous? How about Venezuela, Nicaragua, or Cuba? Maybe? Just maybe somebody needs a win? One thing for sure, even if Trump refuses to start a new war its always a win for the MIC.

  6. January 24, 2019 at 21:34

    The only real threat facing the Pentagon is peace.

  7. SteveK9
    January 24, 2019 at 19:08

    Nothing can happen, and there really is no point. N. Korea would be insane to give up its nuclear weapons, which the will not do. And, our position is ‘give up the nukes first … then we’ll talk.’ This will end when S. Korea develops the nerve to tell the US to take a hike and makes an agreement with the North.

  8. David G
    January 24, 2019 at 17:01

    “… the opportunity for a settlement of the Korean question has not been this promising since the 1953 armistice.”

    The “Korean question” – insofar as it was a matter of legitimate and grave military concern – has been settled: the leadership and populace, both North and South, no longer have any interest in eliminating the other side by force. There is at the same time no great appetite for immediate reunification on either side; some time in the future, after the guns have been melted down or repurposed into park statuary, the Koreans can take up that complex problem if and when and how they want to.

    What remains is the gradual, orderly normalization of relations, which the Koreans are well able to proceed with on their own. If they actually need U.S. assistance on a given matter, they know the Washington, D.C. area code.

    It’s over: we won – “we” being everybody in the world other than the creatures who long for war. Any lingering risk of inadvertent conflict will be addressed by continuing along the path of détente.

    The sole remaining danger – the huge unexploded bomb everyone has to tiptoe around – is, of course, the good old USA, and its never varying ends and methods.

    The alleged Trump “turning point[s]” and “better policy objectives” that Patrick Lawrence ruminates about here couldn’t be less relevant to any of the above.

    The best advice I could give the DPRK in preparing for the summit: research the most effective flattery to slather Trump with; make sure your cutest girls are tasked with bringing him bottled water and the like; make the most of him for the little time he has left in office as a minor roadblock to the U.S. establishment’s unwavering imperial intentions.

    Vis-à-vis the U.S., there’s not too much more the North can do; the major work in defusing the huge U.S. bomb underfoot will have to be done by South Korea, and all such jobs require the utmost care and patience.

  9. mike k
    January 24, 2019 at 16:05

    The American deep state will not easily give up it’s “rule the world” agenda. Expect more trouble making in Asia from the would be hegemon. When selfishness, greed, and violence are the prime values of a society, this madness is what you can expect.

  10. elmerfudzie
    January 24, 2019 at 14:54

    Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all read the Bruce Klingner warnings about North Korea, albeit an analysis tho accurate but articulated well over, twenty years too late. Again, about it being, all Bill Clinton’s fault….truth is, our Intel field operatives know how to work in tandem with any and all organized crime figures. To wit, domestic U.S. politics; the Kennedy brothers, black leaders, ditto for post world war II, European lefties, too many names to mention here but assassinated by teams within the Gladio program, conceived and developed by our Intel agency, the CIA. So this knowledge begs the question, several as a matter of fact. Where was the “dark side of the force” so aptly described by Dick Cheney? For example; when the A.Q. Khan network began to expand it’s illegal and militarily destabilizing nuclear hardware (and software) into nations hostile to the western Occident. So where were those infamous hit men? You know, the same cabal responsible for killing two Kennedy’s and drugging a third into political exile. Are we asked to believe that President Xi couldn’t whistle up that Chinese underworld, the triad, to hop over the border, knock Un off and if you need extra help ask, the South Korean NIS for assistance? There can’t be too many duplicates of that Kim Jong Un around, eh? No, the reasons that Kim J Un remains a problem are many; Japan wants to promote commercial nuclear power where ever it can, Xi would rather use the North as a bargaining chip for his South China Sea take over plan, America wants to keep it’s foot in the door, even tho we can’t seem to make a sale to the housewives (so to speak) . The advanced rocketry development is a real problem here. Once the third stage is achieved, it can deliver a lot more trouble than nukes. or instance, it can be used to detonate an E bomb, or EMP wave high above Tokyo, visit https://science.howstuffworks.com/e-bomb3.htm. It can be used to disburse, simple buck shot into obits assigned to commercial and military satellite zones. Buck shot that will, indefinitely circle the earth and make Swiss cheese of many satellites now in orbit. I can only conclude that there are many credible threats being discussed here and Kim Jong Un had better weigh them all very carefully before rejecting Trumps’ final offer. If the world permits Kim J Un to get away with it, then any little tyrant, anywhere, will fearlessly pursue such objectives, handing huge sums of money, not to mention, unknown compromises, over to criminal enterprises similar to the A Q Khan network. The problem is called nuclear proliferation, and it got to stop somewhere. Good luck Mr President, we’re behind you and let the cards fall where ever they may.

  11. Jeff Harrison
    January 24, 2019 at 11:47

    If you ask me, it is Trump that has to bring something impressive to the table. NK has already, as you pointed out, ceased it’s nuclear programs. What has the US done? Nothing. US/SK aren’t war gaming like they were before but that’s because SK isn’t playing, not because the US decided to stop.

    And I keep coming back to my original question from long ago. If China, Russia, NK and SK all want to improve ties, and develop the region, what precisely can the US do to stop them? I understand about the sanctions but those countries can all ignore them and then the US would be left as the obvious spoiler and fraud that it is.

    • rosemerry
      January 25, 2019 at 14:40

      The USA would have to be asked to remove all its forces and then do so. I can’t see this happening, but the USA always pretends to be helping its allies, but is really only bullying them, and has done so to South Korea all along so far.

      Very good article. The USA must offer at least relief of sanctions and a real end to the “Korean War”.

  12. January 24, 2019 at 10:13

    Awesome scenario painted by Lawrence. The choices in Washington are many. They can climb aboard, sink the ship or watch as it sails off into the horizon. Are all the possibilities are real. No way for readers like me to know but crusty, cantankerous old Trumpy Bear is putting electricity in the air.

    With all these hopeful scenarios easy to see the danger that lurks because of the power possessed by those who don’t like what they are hearing and seeing.

  13. dfnslblty
    January 24, 2019 at 09:31

    Author says a lot of nothing – apparent clearing a way for potus to seem normal or capable.
    Author even mind~reads Kim.
    Would like to read about potus’ minders’ plans, hoping they are more than bellicose bullying.

  14. TomG
    January 24, 2019 at 09:11

    I appreciate Mr Lawrence highlighting the work and diligence of President Moon Jae-in in all this. He’s the one making real progress which Trump, if he could tune out his own advisors, could strengthen significantly and accomplish positive changes in relations. I’m all for it and hope the February summit comes off and has some tangible, worthwhile trade-offs. It seems to me, President Moon ought to be there too.

    As for MSM coverage of the accomplishments to date between north and south and the anticipated reporting for the upcoming summit–well, pathetic as per usual. Already they are hyping up how the north hasn’t de-nuked and thus Trump failed the first go-round and will fail again.

    • rosemerry
      January 25, 2019 at 14:44

      Yes, it is always the other side which must give in to Big Brother.
      Perhaps in Venezuela Mr Maduro should have already moved out and allowed the US stooge replacing him to join the Brazilian and LIMA right-wing gang now taking over the formerly Bolivarian progressive nations.

  15. Sally Snyder
    January 24, 2019 at 09:06

    As shown in this article, North Korea is very concerned that the United States is taking a two-faced approach when it comes to negotiating an end to the DPRK’s nuclear program:

    https://viableopposition.blogspot.com/2018/12/washingtons-two-faced-approach-to-north.html

    Washington has a very long track record of ignoring its international obligations.

  16. Sam F
    January 24, 2019 at 07:39

    Korea is a perfect situation in which the US could, with the right leadership, resolve not only the security issues, and exchange admissions and apologies for the past, but find a path between the political and economic systems of East and West.

    While a market economy is more productive, the US failure to regulate economic power has corrupted its political system. A compromise of free market and socialist economies in Korea would be a fine experiment to lead the way for the US.

    Supporting in Korea a true democracy, with institutions protected from economic power, would reassure NK that its working class will be protected, and serve as a model to restore democracy in the US. But the US has in fact has lost its democracy to a dictatorship of the rich, who fear democracy most of all.

    Cuba, Korea, Venezuela, and other states do not need the corruption of the former US democracy as a model. They can all find middle paths that combine the efficiency of free markets with the protection of socialism, and provide democracy that cannot be corrupted by money power either domestic or foreign.

    What a shining light that would be for the sadly misgoverned United States! And what better way to improve the dialogue between East and West?

    • Bob Van Noy
      January 24, 2019 at 12:15

      Sam F. Really excellent comment. We could be totally supportive of Peace in North Korea and at the same time have a local conversation about a resource limited World. President Trump should tie Bolton up, ignore him and personally negotiate with Kim Jong-un.
      I disagree with Patrick Lawrence, only on his first point and that is: any great negotiator Always leaves room for further talks. In this case the issue is too large to treat as petty…

    • Maxwell Quest
      January 24, 2019 at 13:19

      Yes, great comment, Sam. You left me with very little to say on this topic, which may not be a bad thing ;-)

      The Korean people want their peninsula to be reunified, and I believe that Russia and China are looking forward to greater economic integration of Asia and Europe as exemplified by the new Silk Road Initiative. If the US doesn’t stop dragging its feet (for fear of losing hegemonic power) it may find itself dealt out of the game, as South Korea finds more willing (and stable) partners to assist with reunification and NK economic development.

    • Skip Scott
      January 24, 2019 at 13:44

      I wonder what re-unification would look like. I doubt that Kim wants to cede power. I think a gradual opening of borders and an economic development plan for the north would be a wonderful start.

    • Maxwell Quest
      January 24, 2019 at 16:02

      Yes, that is a sticky wicket, but then the Chinese could always make him an “offer he can’t refuse” à la Godfather fame.

      What’s more troubling to me is what do you do with an entire population that has been isolated from the world and subjected to an oppressive and cultish indoctrination of worshiping a ruling family dynasty? In this case a slower process would give the NK population time to adapt to the ‘real’ world.

    • Sam F
      January 24, 2019 at 20:07

      Very worthwhile responses, thank you all. Full reunification may well take two or three generations, in which extremists on both sides will fear the other and exploit fears to hold on to power, but most on both sides appear to know the faults of their own extreme, and the heavy burden of polarization.

      If the US cared or knew how to be diplomatic and protect all sides, there would have been far fewer conflicts and far greater security since WWII. We need to free our press and elections from the dictatorship of the rich.

  17. January 24, 2019 at 07:36

    As the ongoing Trump government shutdown so clearly illustrates, Donald Trump views human beings as nothing more than tools to get what he wants. What he wants is the approval of the cool kids, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, who pick on him for not building his Great Wall of Jerusalem.

    Trump’s only ideology is “Me.” He is not a diplomat. Any benefit to North or South Korea (or the US for that matter) which may or may not come from moving the Trump reality TV show to Korea for an episode would be completely coincidental.

    All that matters is how Trump perceives the Korean episode’s effect on his own status. None of his so-called policy positions are any more complicated than this. Everything is a status symbol. It isn’t rocket surgery.

    http://opensociet.org/2018/10/11/we-are-all-confident-idiots/

    • Skip Scott
      January 24, 2019 at 13:40

      Don’t you think Pelosi is equally responsible for the shutdown? She isn’t budging either. Sometimes there is no one to root for.

    • Michael
      January 24, 2019 at 22:18

      No. 1st, it is the job of the legislature to direct the nation’s wanderings, the President executes their directives. More importantly, from a political angle, Trump had 2 years of a Republican controlled Congress and no funding was forthcoming then. No hissy fit was thrown which shows he is just politically posturing now. He seems to be unable to declare the victory of showing what traitors the Dems are (snarky when I say it but plausible to his base ) and move on. Instead he seems to finally be doing something which will hurt him in 2020.

    • Skip Scott
      January 25, 2019 at 15:41

      I understand the separation of powers, but it has long been a confused area, and Trump is doing nothing different with his “wall” than many presidents have done previously in an attempt to honor campaign pledges. He does have the power to not sign legislation, or to veto it and force an override. If you’ll excuse the pun, this is a “Mexican standoff”, and it’s all about optics for both sides. Pelosi is “posturing” as much as Trump. If it were a democrat asking for funding for the same purpose, she’d have no problem with it.

    • January 24, 2019 at 15:43

      I think we are long past the “assigning blame in the appropriate echo chamber” stage in this B movie horror show.

      Attempts to rationalize the existence of the pile of dog offal sitting on the rug in the Oval Office by saying it does or does not match the color scheme of the drapes is not a constructive use of our time, in my opinion.

      http://opensociet.org/2019/01/14/the-wall-echochamber-friday

    • Skip Scott
      January 25, 2019 at 15:28

      So you think continuing the forever war with Hillary would have been preferable? I saw nothing positive from either side of the aisle. I voted for Jill to keep from voting for evil. Pelosi and her ilk disgust me as much as Trump. I make it a point to stay outside of the echo chamber.

    • Skip Scott
      January 25, 2019 at 16:01

      O Society & Michael-

      Lest we forget, here’s Bill Clinton on immigration in 1995.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3yesvvYEvs

    • January 26, 2019 at 13:52

      Never forget, his wall is a vanity project. Trump wants to build the Washington Monument. To himself. While he’s still alive.

      Attempts to make this situation more complicated fail to take into account the nature of Trump and what matters to Trump.

      http://opensociet.org/2019/01/26/donald-trump-ends-government-shutdown-because-his-approval-rating-goes-in-the-toilet

    • Skip Scott
      January 27, 2019 at 12:35

      One obvious “complication” is that the ruler’s business model relies on illegal immigrants to keep wages suppressed. I agree with you that for Trump it is all about his narcissistic ego, but for the people who run the show on both sides of the aisle, it is about cheap labor.

    • January 30, 2019 at 12:12

      Understood. We are on the same page, Skip. Trump is a self-interested idiot. Those around him often are often more intelligent.

      Trump’s big sponsor now is Sheldon Adelson. He’s into casinos and rehabs in Vegas. Thug stuff.

      But remember, during the election itself, Robert Mercer was Trump’s puppet master. Mercer brought in Breitbart, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, and Cambridge Analytica to salvage a shitty reality TV show campaign and turn it into something which actually was able to win. Immigration/ White Nationalism/ The Wall being the keystone issue of said campaign.

      So what do you think Robert Mercer expects as a return on his investment?

      https://opensociet.org/2018/11/04/the-fear-factory-how-robert-mercers-hedge-fund-profits-from-trumps-hard-line-immigration-stance/

    • January 30, 2019 at 12:34

      And yes, Skip, the Democratic Party typically takes a stance much more similar to Trump’s stance on The Wall and immigration than they are right now. Pelosi’s party patrons are playing the “at least we’re not Trump card” for political power reasons instead these days, while disguising it as “being principled” or something.

      http://opensociet.org/2019/01/24/the-border-wall-was-a-bipartisan-project-before-trump

    • rosemerry
      January 25, 2019 at 14:54

      Regardless of Trump, look back and see how many “diplomats” the USA uses. Notice especially the mockery of the “UN Rep” every time; Nikki Haley is no worse than Samantha Power, Susan Rice, John Negroponti, John Bolton(!), Madeleine Albright, Jeane Kirkpatrick. The USA wants to ensure that everyone knows might is right and violence is the only method of negotiation.

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