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The One-Minute Korean Waltz

Terry H. Schwadron

June 11, 2018

Its been s a big build-up for the single minute tonight (NY time) in which two egotistical, argumentative, unpredictable and insulting leaders assess one another and, in a summary moment, decide whether there is a deal to be had towards denuclearizing Korea and for preserving world peace.

Actually, that single speed-dating moment between President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un probably will be whether each thinks he can insist louder or more often on being right. With economic carrots and implied or stated military threats, each will outline that they have a singular chance to make the world safer.

Despite the obvious pitfalls, that moment probably will probably go okay. Generally, Trump seems to like or at least respect national authoritarian and goes light on such things as human rights when he talks with them. After all, the big U.S. interest is to stop nuclear weapons development by someone who issues threats to neighbors and to America, something that should worry South Korea, Japan and other neighbors not named America.

As for Kim, just having the meeting and all the publicity hype — as well as getting Trump to pay for his delegation’s stay in the swanky Singapore surroundings — is payment enough on the PR takeaway: The mouse has been allowed to roar at the lion.

Then, perhaps, each will describe a bit of what they see ahead.

To me, that’s where the problem will lie, because the only thing that seems clear from afar is that the two would-be combatants see the main issue — denuclearization — completely differently. That’s not such a far-fetched notion since even the American delegation does not agree on what the term means or might mean. And why bother trying to study what the opposition might have in mind anyway, when a deal-maker simply acts on gut?

Despite all the bluster in getting to this point, now we’re at the summit meetings, and there will have to be some effort to spell things out. Otherwise, what we will emerge with is a bunch of unenforceable words about the start of a “relationship.” That’s not bad, but it will not be an embodiment of what President Trump has demanded emerge from these sessions.

Basically, the most demanding in the Trump crowd, including National Security Adviser John Bolton, see the goal as the total dismantlement of all nuclear weapons, weapons development sites, plus elimination of all North Korean ballistic and non-ballistic missiles and other military secrecy or advantage. They want to de-claw North Korea.

In return, Trump will promise to lift economic sanctions, probably funnel tons of development money into North Korea, and perhaps eventually support a formal end to the Korean war and re-creation of a united Korea on the peninsula.

Of course, North Korea likely has a different view, though it remains more a matter of speculation than stated public goals. Denuclearization to North Korea seems to mean a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, as in withdrawal of U.S. forces, nuclear or not, an end to any special military alliances with the South, and unification efforts. Plus lots of incentive cash. Hell, Kim may demand that the United States eliminate its nuclear weapons development and wipe out delivery systems that send nuclear-equipped submarines off the Korean coast or overflights by strategic bombers carrying nuclear weapons. Well, why not?

What is not clear is what the United States will actually agree to in the name of reducing tensions in the region. Is the end of nuclear testing enough? Verified inspections of destroyed nuclear facilities? Verified continuing counts of centrifuges and storage of uranium and plutonium?

That stuff might just take more than a minute to determine, of course.

You might consider that Kim could be looking across the table at a Donald Trump who just ripped up an agreed-upon communique from a meeting of U.S. allies, openly wondering whether anything that Trump says will hold for more than a few minutes. Or you might wonder whether Kim has had any advice from China, or Russia, or even Iran, which is probably watching this process very closely.

In other words, Kim might be wondering just as much as Trump whether the guy on the other side of the table can speak a trustable word.

Of course, as Trump has said, North Korea’s leaders over the years have never proved reliable in follow up to previous agreements.

For my tastes, this summit would have more heft if it had followed a longer period of actual negotiation over the details. That way we could at least open the meeting thinking that each side is considering the same question.

I can hardly wait for Trump to meet the ayatollah.


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