Singapore sling: When Trump meets Kim Jong-un

President Donald Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12 cannot be viewed in isolation from the unilateral American decision to withdraw from the nuclear pact with Iran. While the decision could undermine confidence in his word, he is also visibly trying hard to amp up pre-summit goodwill. He has, for instance, effusively greeted the North Korean decision announced over the weekend to destroy its nuclear testing zone — though sceptics argue that the site is unusable anyway and that it is premature to hail the North’s decision. Any which way, the meeting between the U.S. and North Korean leaders will be historic, something that would have been unimaginable even a few months ago. Tensions between the two countries had risen to an all-time high over the winter, and Pyongyang’s series of nuclear and intercontinental missile tests were met with an increasingly stringent international sanctions regime and extremely stern diplomacy. The recent thaw in relations between Pyongyang and Washington has been aided by attempts by both North and South Korea to restore normalcy on the divided peninsula, beginning with cordiality during the Winter Olympics and then a meeting between the two Korean leaders. Seoul and Washington too had suspended their annual military exercises, to reassure North Korea of their intentions. For its part, the North has announced the release of three American prisoners accused of “hostile activities”. It has also ceased further nuclear and missile tests. Whether Mr. Kim will agree to a freeze on the North’s nuclear programme is, however, still in the realm of speculation.


Mr. Trump has seized the opportunity afforded by the summit, an unprecedented feat for any U.S. leader, to project himself as the archetypal peacemaker. But the summit cannot escape a fundamental and glaring contradiction. From the standpoint of global nuclear non-proliferation, it is hard to reconcile Washington’s desire to broker peace with Pyongyang with its abrogation of the multilateral pact with Tehran. Neither the threat nor the actual use of force has been enough to significantly advance global nuclear non-proliferation objectives. Recognition of these inherent limitations led to the adoption last year, by over 120 nations, of the UN treaty to prohibit and eventually abolish nuclear arms. Mr. Trump could well view the summit as a chance of a lifetime to turn the tables on a festering issue and earn his legacy. But the deal-maker in him may find the diplomatic deftness required of the task difficult to marshal, given the hawkish defence and foreign policy team around him. Having alienated his European allies over the Iran nuclear deal, world trade and climate change, Mr. Trump needs positive atmospherics in Singapore.

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Printable version | Oct 17, 2021 11:46:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/singapore-sling/article23885474.ece

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