Kim Jong-un has changed his mind, or so it seems. He has cancelled high level talks between North and South Korean officials and has cast the summit meeting scheduled for June 12 in Singapore with President Donald Trump in jeopardy.
His stated reason: dissatisfaction with inflexible rhetoric from Washington (perhaps along with a personal calculation that his own behavior has become too accommodating, making him appear weak to his hard line supporters).
Is this a negotiating tactic? Or was he simply leading the world on with a series of conciliatory moves and messages, giving a weary world hope for a peaceful outcome to tensions on the Korean Peninsula. President Trump, the master of distraction, is no stranger to manipulating language for an outcome that has little relationship to the words he uses (see my post, “The Unbearable Lightness of Lying”). Is Kim posturing? Has he been lying? Or is all this simply a negotiating strategy?
As if to catch up with his counterpart’s shifts in positions on everything from porn star payments to trade sanctions on Chinese companies, Kim has pivoted radically from recent concessions to his current hostility, saying that “unbridled remarks provoking the other side of dialogue are recklessly made in the U.S. and I am totally disappointed as these constitute extremely unjust behavior,” and “If President Trump follows in the footsteps of his predecessors, he will be recorded as more tragic and unsuccessful president than his predecessors, far from his initial ambition to make unprecedented success.” (We can only imagine how well that will go over in the White House!) Further, Kim’s statement explicitly speaks of his regime’s “repugnance” for National Security Advisor John Bolton because of his past statements about the North.
Part of the danger here is that both Trump and Kim are publicly locking horns while leaving little room for private compromise or face-saving. When two individuals hold the keys to such immense power, have such little regard for truth-telling and seem indifferent to the impact their words have on others–whether individuals or nations—an unstable and explosive concoction is brewed. A key question: was Kim lying to US officials all along or have American citizens been misled by the Trump administration which has painted an unrealistically rosy picture of expectations.
Perhaps Kim has taken a page of bluster out of his father’s bargaining script, will again return to a more conciliatory tone and the summit will go ahead as planned (as many experts on North Korea predict).
But as John Bolton and others continue to hold an absolutist position, refer to the “Libya model,” and suggest that all Kim’s weapons be shipped to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, there is little hope for a successful outcome to the proposed upcoming summit between Trump and Kim. We may be witnessing negotiating tactics on both sides, but no one should forget the incredibly high stakes in this venture and that the way forward is fraught with pitfalls. The journey is perilous; it is incumbent upon both US and North Korean officials to seek sure footing for the next steps along this path, or the fall could be catastrophic.