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Trump Announces Summit Meeting With Kim Jong-un Is Back on
President Trump will fly to Singapore this month after all for a landmark summit meeting with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, but he now anticipates a more drawn-out negotiation than once envisioned and indicated that he will stop increasing pressure on the regime while talks proceed.
Eight days after abruptly canceling the June 12 meeting citing North Korea’s “open hostility,” Mr. Trump just as abruptly announced on Friday that it was back on, the latest head-spinning twist in a diplomatic drama that has captivated and confused much of the world. After complaining of North Korean bad faith, he said, in effect, never mind.
“We’re over that, totally over that, and now we’re going to deal and we’re going to really start a process,” Mr. Trump told reporters after meeting at the White House with a high-ranking North Korean envoy who delivered a personal letter from Mr. Kim. “We’re meeting with the chairman on June 12, and I think it’s probably going to be a very successful — ultimately, a successful process.”
He said that economic sanctions would remain in place in the meantime, but that he would not impose more as talks continue, and he even backed off the phrase “maximum pressure” that he has used to describe his strategy.
“I don’t even want to use the term maximum pressure anymore because I don’t want to use that term because we’re getting along,” Mr. Trump said. “You see the relationship. We’re getting along. So it’s not a question of maximum pressure. It’s staying essentially the way it is.”
The reversal followed a 90-minute Oval Office meeting on Friday afternoon with the North’s envoy, Kim Yong-chol, the former intelligence chief and top nuclear arms negotiator who became the first North Korean official to set foot in the White House since 2000, and only the second ever to meet with a sitting American president.
Mr. Trump was joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has taken the lead with North Korea. Left out of the meeting were Vice President Mike Pence and John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, whose suggestions that North Korea should follow Libya’s example irritated Kim Jong-un’s government. Libya voluntarily gave up its nuclear weapons program in 2003, but its leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, was killed in 2011 during an uprising aided by the United States.
Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Mr. Trump sought to play down expectations of a quick breakthrough in Singapore. The president said that it was possible that the meeting could lead to a peace treaty formally ending the Korean War of 1950-1953, but neither the United States nor North Korea indicated that Mr. Kim had agreed to close the gap between the two sides on his nuclear arsenal.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we walked out and everything was settled all of a sudden from sitting down for a couple of hours?” Mr. Trump said. “No, I don’t see that happening. But I see over a period of time. And frankly, I said, ‘Take your time.’”
That stood in sharp contrast to previous demands that North Korea disarm quickly. Just last week, before scrubbing the summit meeting, Mr. Trump said North Korea had to dismantle its nuclear weapons arsenal “over a very short period of time.” The next day, Mr. Pompeo insisted on “rapid denuclearization, total and complete, that won’t be extended over time.”
Veteran foreign policy specialists said that Mr. Trump seemed to be scaling back his ambitions, a recognition perhaps that his initial expectations of an instant Nobel Prize-winning breakthrough were unrealistic, especially given North Korea’s erratic behavior. Administration officials feared that the meeting would be declared a failure if it did not lead to the sort of sweeping agreement that typically would take professional diplomats months, if not years, to broker.
So Mr. Trump seemed to be settling in for a dialogue that could take place across a span of meetings. The Singapore session, the first meeting between a sitting American president and a North Korean leader, will be “a getting-to-know-you meeting, plus,” Mr. Trump said, predicting that there would be “probably others” before any resolution of the yearslong standoff over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
“For him to say we’re not increasing pressure is already a huge concession before they’ve even met,” said Victor D. Cha, a Korea scholar at Georgetown University who was for a time under consideration to be Mr. Trump’s ambassador to South Korea. “And then to say it’s a process also implies that he’s not demanding an immediate verifiable commitment to denuclearization, and that’s also a concession.”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Saturday that one concession sought by the North, a reduction of the American military presence in South Korea, would not be discussed at the summit meeting. Speaking at a security conference in Singapore, Mr. Mattis said that any decisions about troop levels in the South would be “separate and distinct” from the talks with North Korea.
Some specialists said that North Korea’s strategy had already paid off because it was slipping out of the diplomatic isolation and economic stranglehold that Mr. Trump sought to impose. Mr. Kim, who until recently had encountered almost no foreigners since taking over his country, has lately been a regular on the international circuit, meeting repeatedly not just with Mr. Pompeo but also with the leaders of China and South Korea and, this week, Russia’s foreign minister.
At the same time, specialists said Mr. Trump’s comment backing off “maximum pressure” would be seen as a sign that the United States will not vigorously enforce sanctions against countries that trade with North Korea. Even before that comment, Russian and Chinese ship traffic had been ticking back up again, according to experts.
The on-again, off-again summit meeting scheduling had all the earmarks of a television cliffhanger from a president who made a name for himself hosting a reality show on NBC for 14 years, only this time there were deadly serious consequences.
After Mr. Trump canceled the summit meeting last week, a White House official briefing reporters said it would be extremely difficult to reschedule it for June 12 because time was so short. But the president dismissed such concerns, insisting that the two sides go ahead with the original date.
“We think it’s important,” Mr. Trump said. “And I think we would be making a big mistake if we didn’t have it. I think we’re going to have a relationship, and it will start on June 12.”
The only other time a sitting American president has met with a North Korean official was in October 2000 when Bill Clinton hosted an envoy from Pyongyang at the White House. Much like his latter-day counterpart would 18 years later, the envoy delivered a personal letter from the country’s leader, then Kim Jong-il, the father of Kim Jong-un.
The letter delivered Friday was meant to smooth over the rift of the past week, although its contents were undisclosed. Mr. Trump initially told reporters it was “a very nice letter” and “a very interesting letter,” but later said that he had not actually read it. “I purposely didn’t open the letter,” he said.
The envoy who delivered it, Kim Yong-chol, is seen as one of Kim Jong-un’s closest advisers and worked for Kim Jong-il, as well. He is on American sanctions lists and had to be given special permission to travel to Washington. Kim Yong-chol was said to be behind the sinking of a South Korean ship among other hostile acts, and North Korea’s spy agency on his watch was cited for cyberattacks.
He arrived at the White House in a black Chevrolet Suburban and was met by John F. Kelly, the president’s chief of staff, who ushered him to the Oval Office. Mr. Kim was accompanied by four other officials, but he brought only a translator with him into the Oval Office, where he presented his leader’s letter to Mr. Trump in an oversize envelope and the two posed for pictures.
After the meeting, Mr. Trump escorted him to the South Lawn, where the North Koreans posed for more pictures with the president and Mr. Pompeo. Mr. Trump chatted amiably with Mr. Kim, put his hand on the North Korean’s arm in a friendly way, shook hands and then waved as the visitors’ vehicle pulled away.
“It was a big day for the North Koreans and their international standing, and the contrast with the treatment of our allies and neighbors today was palpable,” said Christopher R. Hill, the lead negotiator for President George W. Bush’s effort to reach a deal with North Korea. “My impression is that the North Koreans would not budge on deeper denuclearization and stuck to generalities without time lines.”
Sung-Yoon Lee, a scholar at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, said Mr. Trump stuffed a variety of “unnecessary concessions” into a “goody bag for Kim Jong-un.” Among them were easing up on “maximum pressure,” agreeing to a longer time frame, validating Mr. Kim as a leader by promising more summit meetings, and signaling that China, Japan and South Korea should ready economic aid.
“A total victory for North Korea today, without having made any meaningful concessions or signs to change,” Mr. Lee said.
Even some Republicans offered friendly advice to Mr. Trump, warning to keep his guard up. “You have to not want the deal too much,” Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, said in a speech in his home state, Kentucky. “If you fall in love with the deal, and it’s too important for you to get it, and the details become less significant, you could get snookered.”
[Source: By Peter Baker, The New York Times, Washington, 01Jun18]
East China Sea Conflict
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