Indeed the only thing we know for sure is US President Trump will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at 9am Singapore time on June 12th at the Capella Hotel on Senatosa Island. The lack of anything more concrete makes this summit such an intriguing specatacle.
Throw in US basketball star Dennis Rodman, a pal of Kim’s, who is also hopping off to Singapore to play an unknown role, plus the possible guest appearance of South Korea’s President Moon – and you have the makings of the greatest show on earth with Donald Trump as ring-master.
Seriously, so much is at stake. If the summit goes well Kim, once one of the world’s pariahs, may agree to giving up his nuclear arsenal in return for an easing of crippling sanctions. There’s even talk of an accord leading to an offical end to the Korean War after almost 70 years. But if it goes badly and either Trump or Kim walk out, the Singapore summmit will end up just being a bizarre dog and pony show with no winners.
Success or failure rests on the characters of both men and the chemistry between them.
Trump the former reality TV star, although well briefed by the Departments of State and Defence and the CIA, is surely going to draw on his decades as a billionare and New York real estate developer.
His best selling book:The art of the deal, contains an 11 step formula for success: think big, maximise your options,use your leverage and deliver the goods. Kim, who is “no fool,” according to Secretary of State Pompeo, will surely have read it.
And while Trump will likely fly by the seat of his pants using his ” gut instinct,” according to one aide, Kim by contrast has spent months preparing for Tuesday’s meeting, and not just by digesting briefing notes on the US leader.
This whole jamboree in Singapore began with Kim’s shock announcement on New Year’s Day 2018 he wanted to send a North Korean team to the Winter Olympics in South Korea – symbolising a massive thaw in ice-cold relations with Seoul.
A meeting with the South’s President Moon followed, Kim also made two surprise visits China to see President Xi, he met with Moon a second time, he freed 3 American prisoners,he met with Secretary of State Pompeo twice, and dispatched his trusted aide and former spy chief Kim Yong-chol to see Trump in the White House.
Meanwhile he promoted his already-powerful younger sister Kim Yo-jong, who Korea-watchers say is also Kim’s chief propagandist. She is Kim’s only other blood relative to be involved in politics. And last week he re-shuffled North Korea’s military leadership to wipe-out any opposition within the regime to dialogue with the United States. Three top military chiefs were replaced by younger men, described in South Korea’s media as “moderates” and more “flexible thinkers.”
Kim may also have feared a military coup when he was in Singapore so decided to have a change at the top.
So what can we reasonably expect from Tuesday’s summit?
Trump declared it was going to be more than a “meet-and-greet,” but the US President also made it clear it was likely the the first of 3 or 4 meetings. That would not be unusual, and I would ask why so few?
It took years to formalise a framework which led to the seemingly doomed 2015 Iran agreement. The Strategic Arms Limitation treaties took far longer and Israel the the Palestinians have still not found lasting accord after 50 years of fighting.
We know the White House wants Kim to commit to giving up his nuclearisation programme which is allegedly on hiatus at the moment.
Secretary Pompeo claims Kim is willing, but we’ve not heard actual confirmation from the North Korean leader.And how extensive is the programme?
We know for sure North Korea started developing nukes nearly seventy years ago with Pyongyang claiming to have an advanced hydrogen bomb that possesses “great destructive power ” and is massively more powerful than the last nuclear test of 18 kilotons in September 2016.
We also know North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests in tunnel complexes under Mount Mantap since 2006.
But how long will the dismantlement programme take? Some experts believe the process may need a decade to complete.
Also, who is going to foot the bill if Kim decides to gives up his nukes ? At the time of Ukraine’s independence in 1991 Kiev disposed of 1,900 nuclear weapons. The cost ran into billions of US dollars.
One London think-tank estimates dismantling North Korea’s programme could rocket to a massive US$3 trillion. So will the US pick up the tab, perhaps South Korea too? North Korea is so poor it will not be paying. And will the two leaders address this at the Singapore summit.
What does appear set in stone: Trump is not prepared to relax US sanctions – what he called “maximum pressure,” – until there’s what the State Department described as “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation.”
Indeed, Trump at his recent press conference with the Japanese Premier said he had a raft of new and tougher sanctions to further pressure North Korea, if necessary.
Even the Americans know they are making a big ask of Kim and the best we can hope for on Tuesday is the North Korean leader agreeing in principle his intention to give up nukes. Anything further is not going to happen.
One thing certain: the spin doctors both American and North Korean – and especially Donald Trump, will likely hail Tuesday’s summit a massive success whatever happens. Trump might even get to use his favourite word: “bootiful!”
But as always the devil will be in the detail – and that will be for another time and another summit.