The Trumpian brand of diplomacy is characterised by the man’s own erratic u-turns on issues that he randomly ditches according to his own political convenience. The decision made by the Trump administration on Thursday, to pull out from the proposed summit meeting with Kim Jong Un, therefore, did not surprise many.
The president once derided Kim as “Little Rocket Man” and “Short and Fat” but in March Trump indicated that “there is a good chance that Kim Jong Un [sic] will do what is right for his people and for humanity.” There was little hope that the anticipated summit would materialise, but the pull out by Trump has sent shockwaves to the peninsula. Citing a flurry of hostile statements from North Korea, Trump called this a “missed opportunity”. While he warned the hermit nation of even harsher sanctions, Trump also indicated for a possibility of a future summit. The ambiguity of the announcement gives a small ray of hope for a possible meeting between the two leaders in the future.
This decision came in response to a North Korean statement which specifically called out Vice President Mike Pence. Pence in a Fox interview earlier this week threatened North Korea by saying that if Kim didn’t strike a deal, this would end like the ‘Libyan Model’. This analogy was reiterated by Tom Bolton, who is a national security advisor in Washington. Everyone vividly remembers how Gaddafi was brutally killed by rebel groups in 2011 aided by NATO forces. The fear in North Korea is that the coup was preceded by Gaddafi agreeing to disband his nuclear ambitions in 2003. According to this logic having nuclear capability gives Kim the leverage and an assurance that his fate would not be the same.
When Trump agreed to meet Kim Jong Un on a negotiation table earlier this year, many felt optimistic. But what followed has clearly shown the complexity of operating diplomatic channels. While there are many opposing voices within Washington, the very fact that North Korea was closely monitoring the comments made by American officials indicates that not everyone is excited about Kim’s push for peace in his own country. While it will not be prudent to assume that a section of the elite in North Korea tried to sabotage the summit, it will be clear soon, as any opposing voice is usually executed gruesomely by Kim. This is the same man who threw his own uncle to pack of ravenous dogs alive.
The stakeholder who has lost the most in this entire episode in the President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in. He had met Trump this week and previously had pushed eagerly for the meeting between Kim and Trump. The scrapping of the summit would hurt him politically as his involvement in this failed endeavour makes him an easy target for the opposition in his country. Kim, on the other hand, has walked out with a revamped image internationally. Lambasted for his totalitarian rule, his photo shoot with Moon Jae-in and his agreement to disband his nuclear ambitions did help his reputation as a leader vying for peace. Ironically, just hours before the announcement of Washington to pull out of the summit, Kim ordered the blasting of underground nuclear launch bases in front of foreign journalists.
In the end, despite this failed effort to reach out by both sides, we again have an escalated situation which has put the entire region back on edge.