DEAL OR no deal, today’s (last night) meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un should not be mistaken for anything more than a spectacle. For it will take more than bluster from these two men to ensure the monumental task of denuclearisation is achieved. Assuming the meeting in Singapore comes off – and given the mercurial nature of both leaders, a late cancellation is possible – it will come after a series of extraordinary broadsides. Only a few months ago, Trump called Kim a “rocket man on a suicide mission,” a “madman,” and threatened “fire and fury.” In reply, Kim called Trump a “mentally deranged US dotard” and “a barking dog.”
Even after today’s summit was announced, the roller-coaster ride continued. Trump called Kim “a smart cookie” and said he was “very honourable.” But on May 24, Trump abruptly cancelled the summit before reinstating it on June 1.
Making things more unpredictable is the fact that over the weekend, Trump had a fractious showing at the G7 summit in Canada. He may have hoped his fallout with world leaders emphasised his strength but it, in fact, has only isolated the US going into today’s proceedings at Sentosa island.
Even if Trump wrests some kind of commitment from Kim, it will not be the first such agreement. In January 1992, North Korea agreed to denuclearisation and also signed an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to allow inspection of its Yongbyon facility. But the IAEA’s inspectors were later blocked from areas of the facility and, worse, North Korea took steps to begin extracting plutonium.
An intervention by former US president Jimmy Carter produced another deal: the 1994 Agreed Framework. But implementation of the framework chugged along slowly for nine fraught years until the discovery that North Korea had been pursuing a secret uranium route to making a bomb.
Then, in 2005, a joint statement of principles was negotiated. That fell apart within days due to lack of coordination in the US branches of government.
True, all of these deals were negotiated under Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, but in 2012, Kim Jong-un himself was the leader when Barack Obama’s administration signed the Leap Year agreement. Within weeks, North Korea conducted missile launches. There are good grounds to doubt whether a new agreement today will be anything more than razzmatazz. In contrast, the stakes could not be higher. There are other risks outside of the already Herculean task of denuclearisation. North Korea has 141 sites dedicated to the production of weapons of mass destruction, including stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, according to some analysts.
Trump has already handed Kim a victory by granting him the meeting. He has given a dangerous, dictatorial leader a semblance of legitimacy. The question, now, is what Kim will do with it.