Saturday, April 28, 2018


The meeting between Kim Jong-un and his southern counterpart Moon Jae-in was remarkable of course.  President Moon can be credited with the outcome. The North Korean leader got the opportunity to normalize his body language: yesterday's robot became today's normal.  Everything went smoothly, but the proof will be in the nuclear pudding. The linkage between complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula with the signing of a peace treaty looks advantageous on paper but still hazardous in real terms.

The two leaders were able to agree on some form of modus vivendi, short on details, timetable and concrete steps forward. This could be expected, given the complexity of the situation and the collateral interests of Japan, China and the United States. The various Asian interested parties will have to sort out historical grievances and worries about regional stability. The US will need solid confidence-building measures since North Korea has a record of cheating and negating on the given word.

The immediate cloud which hangs over this fragile first step is none other than the Trump/Kim Jong-un meeting. The American president is better at outrage than at chemistry.  Besides, he is too intellectually lazy to bring the gravitas and the historical and cultural know-how needed to approach problems which have long shadows. President Moon is the lone architect of this diplomatic "spring", which required a dose of symbols, protocol and patience, all things alien to Trump. The former might as well bring Kanye West (the new court jester) as a substitute for Dennis Rodman. 

The problems are plentiful:

--There is a need for overall trust, given past blunders and transgressions from the North.

--The Rubik cube of verification, sanctions, Pyongyang's future, the survival of the Kim dynasty and a possible opening to the outside world. China will be mostly concerned with maintaining the status quo which avoids a massive influx of North Koreans.

--Japan must fear Washington's impetuosity and Trump's total disdain for diplomatic stagecraft.

Many interested parties feel sidelined.  As long as President Moon was the sole architect of this major conceptual correction, confidence remained high. The American "invasion" in this most fragile, almost ceremonial coming together, is considered with some anxiety, given Trump's penchant for solo performance. The diplomats are absent at a time when they are most needed. True, some argue that Trump might arrive at some form of agreement where others, although more versed in international politics, failed. One should hope for a favorable outcome but, in the end, the fine print that counts will still be the realm of the diplomats, of which there are none on the American side. The trio Trump/Pompeo/Bolton reminds one of the horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Observers will also be watching the American decision regarding the Iran deal. It took months to negotiate. The painstaking labor involved is probably the first reason for Trump's antipathy for both process and outcome. He hates reading, after all.  Here or tomorrow he prefers to decide without a grammar.  Dangerous!

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