‘Spur of the moment’ Trump on North Korean meeting

Donald Trump has been all over the place leading up to the meeting with North Korean leader Kim Yong-un in Singapore shortly. He now seems to be playing down expectations, and shows that he seems to be winging it.

Reuters: Any agreement with North Korea will be ‘spur of the moment’: Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Saturday any agreement with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at next week’s summit would be “spur of the moment,” underscoring the uncertain outcome of what he called a “mission of peace.”

“I have a clear objective, but I have to say – it’s going to be something that will always be spur of the moment,” Trump told reporters at a news conference at the G7 summit in Quebec.

That seems like a bit of a contradiction.

“You don’t know. This has not been done before at this level.”

The main issue for the June 12 summit in Singapore, which he departed for before the end of the G7 meeting, is the U.S. demand for North Korea to abandon a nuclear weapons program that now threatens the United States.

Trump said it would probably take time to reach an agreement with Kim on denuclearization, but at a minimum he believed the summit could produce a “relationship” between the United States and North Korea, which do not have diplomatic ties.

It would be remarkable if Trump and Kim made significant progress at the meeting towards a lasting solution on Korea.

Trump winging it with flip flop flaps

Donald Trump seems to like creating a flap about big issues. He seeks attention  for personal glory and in trying to do the big deals he claims he’s expert at. But it’s a high risk strategy (or more likely lack of strategy). It may only take on serious misunderstanding of where he stands to precipitate a major problem.

And sensible people who may be able to manage things are left flailing around wondering where Trump’s flapping may go next.

Bloomberg: Trump’s Head-Snapping Reversals Shake Allies at Home and Abroad

Donald Trump slapped tariffs on China, then reconsidered. He yanked the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal without a plan B. He ordered U.S. penalties on ZTE Corp. reversed to save Chinese jobs.

And on Thursday he canceled a landmark summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as abruptly as he announced it in March.

Trump has always led from the gut. But the president’s recent head-snapping decisions, made without much consultation with allies overseas or in Congress, suggest a White House that is winging it on almost every major issue.

The president’s activities have grown increasingly frenetic amid two developments: the departure of several top officials regarded as checks on his impulses and the expanding law enforcement investigations into Trump’s campaign and his associates, including lawyer Michael Cohen. Trump has demonstrated a particular obsession with the idea that the Justice Department planted an informant in his campaign, perhaps at the behest of former President Barack Obama — a conspiracy theory for which there is no evidence.

Experienced advisers including former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, National Economic Council director Gary Cohn and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson all exited the administration since February.

Trump’s staff turnover is another problem, creating further uncertainties, and risking a lack of checks on the President’s impulsiveness for fear of getting chucked out.

There’s no clear line between Trump’s staff turmoil, his associates’ legal troubles and his erratic policy making. And his administration contends that major decisions — on North Korea, Iran, trade with China and others — are founded on months-long deliberations. For example, a senior administration official said that Trump pulled out of the Singapore summit after a series of frustrations, including North Korea standing up U.S. negotiators who flew to the Southeast Asia city-state last week for an expected meeting to lay groundwork.

Yet Trump himself conveys the sense that every announcement is spur of the moment.

Less than four hours before the White House released Trump’s letter to Kim canceling the summit, “Fox & Friends” broadcast an interview with the president — taped the day before — in which he said there was a “good chance” the meeting would happen.

The on-off North Korea summit may be on again.

But with two erratic leaders who may be more concerned with their own egos than anything it creates a sense of chaos where the chance of disaster seems increasingly more likely.

And even if a deal is reached I don’t think either Kim or Trump can be trusted much to stick to the deal – North Korea has a long history of non-compliance, and Trump has a short history of dumping on deals he decides he doesn’t like, and creating flaps for self seeking attention or diversion from flip flops.

As long as neither starts winging it with missiles the world may survive them.

Trump scraps summit with North Korea’s Kim

Rancid rhetoric has resumed between the USA and North Korea. Statements between the two countries had put the planned summit between Donald Trump and Kim Yong Un on notice, and it didn’t taake loing for Trump warnings to escalate into him withdrawing from plans to have the meeting.

Reuters: Trump scraps North Korea summit, warns Kim that military ready

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday called off a historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un scheduled for next month, citing Pyongyang’s “open hostility,” and warned that the U.S. military was ready in the event of any reckless acts by North Korea.

Trump wrote a letter to Kim to announce his abrupt withdrawal from what would have been a first-ever meeting between a serving U.S. president and a North Korean leader in Singapore on June 12.

“Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it would be inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting. Please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place.”

North Korea had just symbolically demolished what they said was a nuclear test site.

Trump canceled the summit a few hours after North Korea followed through on a pledge to blow up tunnels at its main nuclear test site, which Pyongyang said was proof of its commitment to end nuclear testing.

A small group of international media selected by North Korea witnessed the demolition of tunnels at the Punggye-ri site on Thursday.

The apparent destruction of what North Korea said was its only nuclear test site had been widely welcomed as a positive, if largely symbolic, step toward resolving tension over its weapons. Kim has declared his nuclear force complete, amid speculation the site was obsolete anyway.

But they had already threatened to withdraw from the talks.

Earlier on Thursday, North Korea had repeated its threat to pull out of the summit, which was intended to address concerns about its nuclear weapons program, and warned it was prepared for a nuclear showdown with Washington if necessary.

Trump had also been making threats of withdrawal, and Vice President Mike Pence had stirred things up an already messy lead up to the summit.

Washington Post: How Kim-Trump tensions escalated: The more the U.S. said ‘Libya,’ the angrier North Korea got

“As a person involved in the U.S. affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the U.S. vice president,” Choe Son Hui, a North Korean vice foreign minister, had said hours earlier.

The remarks came after Pence brought up Libya as an example of North Korea’s possible fate in a Fox News interview Monday, even though similar comments by Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, and Trump himself had previously drawn ire in Pyongyang.

“As the president made clear, this will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn’t make a deal,” Pence told Fox News. Using almost the same words, Trump stressed last week that the example of Libya showed “what will take place if we don’t make a deal.”

One could almost think that the US was deliberately provoking North Korea on an ongoing basis. Did trump want olut of the meeting, but wanted to blame the breakdown in peace talks on North Korea?

Both were referring to the capture and killing of former Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi by rebel forces in 2011. The references were apparently meant as a warning to North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

But a closer look at history reveals that Libya may be the worst example Pence or Trump could have chosen — and could have contributed to the renewed escalation of tensions in recent days. The North African nation chose to voluntarily give up its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and to comply with Western conditions — but the United States and Europe later helped topple the Gaddafi regime anyway.

So Libya was a very stupid threat to keep making.

Trump may have slipped out of contention for a Nobel Peace prize. He has just said that the US is ready for any military action – Reuters:

In a statement at the White House, Trump said he was still open to dialogue but had spoken to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and warned North Korea against any “reckless act.” He said the U.S. military was the most powerful in the word and was ready if necessary.

Trump is acting at least as recklessly. Threatening nuclear war is a particularly stupid risk.

North Korea far from a done deal

The celebrations about peace and harmony in Korea was a bit premature.

On May 9th, Trump was asked if he thought that he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize because of his North Korea diplomacy. “Everyone thinks so, but I would never say it”.

North and South Korea have been working together despite Trump’s undiplomatic approach, although the US has contributed through the visit of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who was trying to set up the May meeting between Trump and Kim Yong Un.

But Kim may have thrown a spanner in the works. Nobel may have to put their considerations on hold.

New Yorker: Just How Fragile Is Trump’s North Korea Diplomacy?

The new diplomacy is still fragile. In a surprise announcement, North Korea indefinitely suspended the second round of talks between senior officials from the two Koreas—due to be held at the D.M.Z. on Wednesday. It blamed joint military exercises between South Korean and U.S. military forces. Pyongyang viewed the operation as “a flagrant challenge to the Panmunjom Declaration and an intentional military provocation running counter to the positive political development on the Korean Peninsula,” North Korea’s state-run Central News Agency reported.

The Trump Administration was totally blindsided by the move, just five days after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo returned from his second round of talks with Kim to prepare for the Trump summit. Kim had even told Pompeo that he understood the “need and utility” of continued exercises between two countries with which North Korea is still technically at war, the State Department told reporters. The White House scrambled to clarify and respond.

The impending summit was technically designed to discuss “denuclearization”—a term first used, in 1992, to get around talk of “disarmament,” which North Korea feared would make it sound more vulnerable in a volatile neighborhood. Over the weekend, however, the Trump Administration declared that more than North Korea’s nuclear arsenal will be negotiated in Singapore.

“Denuclearization is absolutely at the core of it, and it means not just the nuclear weapons,” the national-security adviser, John Bolton, told ABC on Sunday. “North Korea’s previously agreed, several times, in fact, to give up its uranium-enrichment and plutonium-reprocessing capabilities. We’ve got the ballistic-missile issues on the table. We’ve got to look at chemical and biological weapons.”

After their meeting last week, Pompeo said that Kim fully understood that the U.S. goal is complete denuclearization. In public, however, North Korea has been ambiguous, at best.

South Koreans know that the Singapore summit is the riskiest U.S. initiative ever undertaken.

And premature celebrations and accolades added to the risks.

In Seoul and along the D.M.Z., South Koreans—both supporters and skeptics of the new diplomacy—told me that they don’t care much about Trump’s motive, as long as it refocusses his energies through the rest of his Presidency. Just six months ago, inflammatory rhetoric threatened to end a truce that has been in place since 1953.

The noisy belligerence produced drastic predictions of a conflagration far costlier than the first Korean War. It could easily produce a quarter-million deaths in Seoul—a city of ten million people just ninety minutes from the D.M.Z.—and a million casualties in all of South Korea, military experts told me. North Korea would almost certainly be harder hit.

The risks of it all turning to custard must still be high, especially if the US pushes too hard and keeps making tough talk public statements.

Another complication is the US walking out of the Iran deal. North Korea would be justified in being sceptical of the strength of any deal with the US – and with Trump, who has dumped on other US deals as well, like the TPPA and NAFTA.

For now, all’s quiet on the northern front. My first stop near the D.M.Z. was an amusement park at the edge of the restricted area that offered kiddie rides. A small shopping mall had a Popeyes and a Sam’s Bagels as well as Korean food outlets. South Korean families were out enjoying the spring sunshine and the tentative peace. At souvenir shops, I bought kitsch D.M.Z. T-shirts and framed pieces of barbed wire cut from the frontier, reminiscent of scraps once sold of the Berlin Wall.

One of my final stops was at the observation post near Paju, where some of the fiercest battles of the Korean War raged. I peered through big binoculars, grounded on posts, at spooky Peace Village, on the other side of the D.M.Z. It’s often referred to as Propaganda Village. It appeared modern, with concrete apartment blocks and buildings and roads. But it is reportedly a shell that provides an illusion of life—largely motionless, like the nearby statue of the country’s first leader.

The sign atop the observation post declared “End of Separation, Beginning of Unification.”

As I left, I thought how it will take big and bold and tangible diplomacy by the American and Korean leaders—a lot more than turning off the propaganda loudspeakers or blowing up a tunnel of doubtful use—to really insure that the D.M.Z. is permanently silent.

It may also take a rethink of Trump/US diplomacy, or lack thereof.

As well as a rethink of what may be worth of a Nobel Peace prize.


Will Trump help or hinder Korean peace deal?

The North and South Korean leaders have had an historic meeting, and the prospects of an official peace agreement and de-nuclearisation looking promising.

US President Donald Trump has been typically brash and bold in public statements, ahead of a planned meeting with Kim Yong-un next month. Will he help or hinder game changing agreements in Korea? Who knows?

While the situation looks markedly improved remember that Trump played a prominent and provocative role in recent escalations, raising risks substantially. One bad decision could have had horrendous results – Trump threatened to destroy North Korea.

RNZ (ABC): Trump factor could hinder not help Korean deal

The two sides will work towards signing a peace treaty formally ending the Korean war, sixty five years after the armistice was signed.

Both Koreas will work towards the denuclearisation of the peninsula.

The tone and language spoke of, “one nation, one language, one blood”.

“We can make a better future with our hands together,” Kim Jong-un said.

This could be the turning point where North Korea sees a new future beyond just the military – a future where the shattered economy could take precedence over the production and testing of ever greater means of mass murder.

Or it could be more of the same. A shonky regime buying time to further perfect its weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The never shy Donald Trump has claimed credit for getting the North and South together, citing the pressure exerted by his sanctions, his military, and his strategic genius.

But now it’s his turn to make good his self-described talent as the greatest of dealmakers.

Now Mr Trump and Mr Kim will have to size one another up, test the handshake, rattle and roll the alpha cage and see who comes out on top – and who is the loser.

For Mr Trump the salesman’s view of winners and losers could have dangerous consequences.

Both men need to walk away from their talks due in the next six weeks or so able to claim a victory. Humiliation will not work for either party.

They have both tried reciprocal public humiliation, but the tone has changed somewhat, especially in Korea, as it must if a lasting solution is going to be agreed on.

Mr Trump has already warned he would walk out of the talks if he doesn’t like what he’s hearing – and that’s assuming we even get to a face-to-face meeting of such unlike minds.

As with anything Trump it’s bit of a lottery – and it will mostly depend on the resolve of the Korean leaders, either with Trump’s help or despite his involvement.

Will Mr Trump take an America-first view of these talks or look after the interests of South Korea, Japan and even China – and how will any agreement be enforced?

It may come down to whether Trump approaches it as a win for him, or a win for the world. If the Korean situation is successfully defused, with both North and South Korea benefiting without humiliation, then Trump will get some of the credit. There is a risk he will try to get too much for himself.

It is too soon to talk about Nobel prizes, as some have suggested – and if any are eventually dished out over Korea there would have to be joint credit.

Yes, only time will tell, and Trump’s unpredictability and narcissism means that  anything could happen. He may tone down his public bluster and help do an historic deal. The Koreas, China and Japan will be the biggest beneficiaries, and if Trump earns bragging rights then good on him.

Trump may end up hindering, or helping. or both.

Kim Yong Un increasing in confidence, popular with his people

We usually only see superficial headlines about North Korean leader Kim Yong Un. His visit to China this week hit the headlines. It was his first trip abroad since becoming leader in 2011, and is as significant as his proposed meeting with US president Donald Trump in May. There are obvious changes to North Korea’s international relationships.

A report suggests this may be due to an increase confidence of Kim in his power, and it also says that he is doing ok with ordinary people due to gradual economic reforms.

Financial Time: North Korea: Why Kim Jong Un came in from the cold

He controls a million-strong army and runs a nuclear weapons programme but for years Kim Jong Un has ruled with a nagging sense of fear. The young North Korean dictator, some argue, was afraid to leave his isolated, impoverished nation in case his generals launched a coup or foreign forces used the opportunity to bring his brutal reign to an abrupt end.

Such notions were shattered this week as a private armoured train trundled 20 hours from Pyongyang to Beijing for Mr Kim’s first trip abroad as paramount leader of North Korea.

The visit, initially shrouded in secrecy with the Chinese capital on lockdown, was seen by experts as an attempt to mend Pyongyang’s frayed ties with Beijing — its principal backer — ahead of a possible summit between Mr Kim and US president Donald Trump in May. But to others it signalled something more: the dictator’s growing confidence in his hold on power — a position that he has for years meticulously strengthened through a series of political, economic and military policies that are becoming synonymous with his reign.

Kim has been ruthless with the military and North Korean elite in establishing his power, but has been reduced restrictions for ordinary people.

Mr Kim has followed a three-pronged strategy to cement his grip on power: high-level political repression, grassroots economic liberalisation and the unwavering development of his nation’s nuclear programme.

Surveys of defectors appear to show that his policies are having an impact. They indicate that Mr Kim enjoys broad support among ordinary North Koreans, while analysts now believe he has the nation’s military on a tight leash.

Unlike Kim Jong Il — his father whose reign became associated with a famine that killed hundreds of thousands in the 1990s — Mr Kim has focused his ire mainly on the North Korean elite and military, leaving his image among the wider populace relatively unscathed.

“From the people’s perspective, the purging of elites is seen as the right thing to do due to their alleged wrongdoings,” says Kim Young-soo, a professor at Sogang University in Seoul.

Alongside purges of the elite, Mr Kim has also taken steps, via a rebooted propaganda operation, to bolster his image among ordinary North Koreans.

Human rights violations still plague the nation, with arrests, forced labour and executions endemic. But like Maoist China, Mr Kim has honed his cult of personality, which appears to keep him above the fray. He is regularly portrayed in state media with a broad grin or engaged in frivolous activities with civilians or soldiers.

Most importantly for his reputation, however, Mr Kim has overseen a period of quiet but effective and gradual economic reform by allowing the spread of markets and de facto private enterprises, which have led to a clear uptick in wage levels and the standard of living.

If Kim can improve his international relations, including pulling North Korea back from brink of nuclear escalation, plus improve the standard of living for the people of North Korea, he may not totally be the bogeyman and despot as often portrayed and assumed.

Trump could play his part.

Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump to meet

Whoever is responsible for organising a meeting between North Korea’s Kim Yong Un and the US’s Donald Trump probably deserves a medal, especially if it results in a de-escalation of what had been growing tensions between the nuclear trigger happy adversaries.

South Korea has been involved in trying to bring the two together so deserves some credit, but so do Kim Yong Un and Trump if they follow through and are serious about sorting out their primary differences

It’s too soon to tell what the real intent of either is, and how this will progress, but it’s more promising than having ego driven slanging matches from a distance.

North Korea may consider nuclear disarmament

Talks between North Korea and South Korea have raised hopes that the North may be willing to discuss nuclear disarmament, but North Korea has faailed to keep promises in the past.

RNZ:  North Korea willing to discuss nuclear disarmament, says South

North Korea is willing to talk about getting rid of its nuclear weapons but only if its own safety can be guaranteed, South Korea says.

The South says the subject was raised when its officials met with the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, in Pyongyang on Monday, during a rare visit.

A statement from the South Korea president’s office said: “The North showed willingness on denuclearisation in the Korean Peninsula. If military threats to the North Korea decrease and regime safety is guaranteed, the North showed that it has no reason to retain nukes.”

The North’s KCNA news agency said Mr Kim had “warmly welcomed” the delegates and held an “openhearted talk” with them.

During their visit, the South’s officials passed on a letter from South Korean President Moon Jae-in, in which he invited Mr Kim to attend further talks.

KCNA said Mr Kim had “exchanged views and made a satisfactory agreement” on the letter and gave orders for it to be acted on.

The South’s delegates returned to Seoul on Tuesday morning, the South Korean news agency Yonhap said.

These were the first officials from Seoul to meet Mr Kim since he came to power. They said Mr Kim is also open to US talks, and would pause weapons testing.

Some hope of progress, but:

In previous programmes to halt its nuclear ambitions, the North has failed to keep its promises.

Hopefully South Korea and North Korea can make progress on de-escalation.

After the news from the South Korean officials was made public, President Donald Trump tweeted: “The World is watching and waiting! May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!”

The further he is kept away from talks and negotiations the better, but he can still stuff things up via Twitter.

Nuclear posturing is a dangerous escalation

Nuclear posturing, and probably the threat of nuclear attacks or war, have escalated over the last year. In part this has been precipitated by North Korea’s intent on demonstrating a nuclear capability, real or not. The reaction of the large nuclear powers, the US via Donald Trump and Russia via Vladimir Putin, is of increasing concern.

There is a real risk that ego driven, macho, power protecting leaders from any of several countries may push one to a nuclear attack, and that may start a dangerous nuclear exchange, and potentially a chain reaction that could be devastating to the state of our world.

Financial Times: Vladimir Putin’s nuclear posturing is a dangerous escalation

There was a large element of posturing in the presentation that accompanied Vladimir Putin’s state of the union address last week, showing a mock-up missile seemingly heading for the coast of Florida. It is hard to know whether the weapons he boasts Russia has developed — including an “invincible” hypersonic missile, an underwater drone and a nuclear-powered cruise missile — really exist, or work as well as claimed.

Even if they do, they would hardly change the balance of power. Yet this is still a dangerous escalation in both rhetoric and military strategy.

The Russian president was addressing a domestic audience in the run-up to an election intended to demonstrate the enduring appeal of his strongman rule. But he was also putting the west on notice, that Russia is back as a global power and determined to keep pace with the US in any efforts to expand and modernise nuclear capabilities.

The return of the nuclear arms race.


Seen from Moscow, this is a reasonable response to western provocation. Mr Putin has never forgiven Nato’s encroachments on Russia’s sphere of influence. He is still bitter at George W Bush’s decision to pull the US out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, allowing it to press ahead with a land-based missile defence system that Russia views as a direct, deliberate threat.

Now the US administration has said explicitly that great power competition, rather than antiterrorism, will be the focus of national security. Donald Trump has pledged to spend freely on upgrading the US nuclear arsenal.

Last month, a review of nuclear “posture” set out US plans to equip itself with new “low-yield” nuclear weapons and for the first time consider nuclear strikes in response to non-nuclear threats — such as a devastating cyber attack. Russia has long possessed smaller nuclear weapons, with a military doctrine that conceives of their tactical use to counter conventional threats.

But this is a radical departure in US policy that could significantly lower the threshold for nuclear war.

Especially when an irrational reactive President is in charge.

This is all the more dangerous given the dismal state of US-Russian relations; Russia’s increasing international reach, in Ukraine, Syria and recent western elections; the growing number of third country nuclear forces; and the increasing risks of accidents or miscalculations given more frequent encounters between US and Russian forces.

It is worrying, then, that both Washington and Moscow show so little interest in maintaining and strengthening the arms control agreements that have helped to regulate relations between the world’s two main nuclear actors for the best part of 50 years.

It is also worrying that the leaders of both countries are into provocative posturing.

Putin and Trump have the power, both as leaders and as potential button pushers of huge nuclear arsenals, to destroy the world.

And the risks aren’t confined to them, a chain reaction could easily be started by Kim Yong Un, or the leader of another nuclear armed country. Nuclear retaliation could also be provoked by a non-nuclear country, or non-geographical entity.

Being the most remote country in the world from all of this risk is small comfort when all it may mean is we can survive a little longer than everyone else.

Image result for cartoon nuclear

That’s an optimistic outcome given the threats to other species without going nuclear.

Dealing with a madman

Take from this what you like: