So It’s Back To “Fire And Fury” Then?
In the end, it seems the main reason Trump canceled his upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was to pre-empt the possibility North Korea might cancel on Trump.
Here’s Trump’s entire statement when he made this announcement (it followed an earlier, written announcement which you see above). Click on the photo to watch:
We didn’t find much spectacularly revealing in Trump’s statement. But a couple of things did pop out at us:
- Trump seemed to ad-lib very little, if at all. It’s pretty clear he is reading from a written statement, on paper, in front of him (no Teleprompter either). Why is this significant? Because it’s so unusual for him not to digress even a little.
- The President stressed that if military action is necessary, he’d already spoken to South Korea and Japan and they’d agreed to “shoulder much of the cost of any financial burden”. So in other words: if there’s a war, Japan and South Korea will pay for it. So that makes it OK?
We found a Washington Post story giving a timeline of what led up to Trump’s decision to be much more revealing. According to the Post, it was National Security Adviser John Bolton who alerted Trump to a salvo of aggressive but fairly run-of-the-mill rhetoric from North Korea which didn’t directly confront Trump, but called Vice-President Pence a “dummy”. That’s after Pence threw around references to Libya, a real sore point with North Korea, and something Bolton himself started, with what we believe was a goal of ruining the summit.
This would be the 2nd time Bolton has played a major role in blowing apart a possible agreement with North Korea. (The first time came in the early days of the George W. Bush administration; Bolton brags about “smashing” that deal with a “hammer”.)
Trump earlier this week diverged from Bolton and said North Korea would not have to completely denuclearize all at once before they could expect to get anything from the U.S. That “all-at-once” approach is what Bolton was referring to when he said “Libya model.” Come to think of it, why didn’t Bolton just call it the “all-at-once model”, which also would’ve been easier to understand? Of course, the answer should be crystal clear by now.
How Did North Korea React To Trump’s Statement?
In a very “adult” way. No fiery rhetoric (although that’ll probably come). Instead, according to North Korea’s official state-run news service, its chief negotiator said “We again state to the U.S. our willingness to sit face-to-face at any time in any form to resolve the problem.”
Trump’s Also Been Blaming China
Trump suggested China was suddenly playing a disruptive role earlier this week during his meeting with South Korea’s President Moon. Saying: “I will say I’m a little disappointed, because when Kim Jong-un had the meeting with President Xi, in China, the second meeting — the first meeting we knew about — the second meeting — I think there was a little change in attitude from Kim Jong-un. So I don’t like that.” Here’s a slightly more extensive clip of Trump’s comments, which include him also praising China’s President Xi for showing him a good time when he visited in November. Trump: “I don’t think anybody has ever been treated better in China — ever in their history.” (Click on the photo to watch):
And yes, there was a second more low-key “secret” meeting between Kim Jong-un and China’s President Xi earlier this month in the coastal city of Dalian, after their first widely-publicized “secret” meeting in Beijing.
Why would China have interfered? We think because it was truly caught off guard by the speed at which North-South and North-USA talks were proceeding, and it wanted to slow things way down. For years, North Korea has literally acted as a buffer between China and the 35,000 U.S. troops in South Korea. But this is more about economics, we think: China wants to be sure it remains North Korea’s predominant trading partner if Kim begins to normalize relationships with the rest of the world. And despite China’s long-standing political and philosophical ties with North Korea, this will be a challenge, because it’s only natural for North Korea to gravitate toward South Korea, given a common language and shared ethnic background and culture.
It’s Impossible To Predict What’ll Happen Next, But That Doesn’t Mean Everybody (Including Us) Isn’t Going To Try…
- Some “North Korea watchers” tried to be optimistic: saying at least now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been to North Korea, and met with Kim Jong-un, so they’ve opened up a channel of communication that wasn’t there before.
- We think what’s potentially more significant is whether other countries will continue to honor strict sanctions the U.S. has on North Korea, or they will begin to erode now that there’s no visibility about when a summit might be. Trump has promised even more sanctions. But since the U.S. has virtually no trade with North Korea, it’s almost entirely up to other countries, like China, to make sure those sanctions are effective. If they don’t continue to enforce the sanctions, that will significantly increase the chance this summit was a one-time window.
At About The Same Time Trump Was Crafting His Announcement, North Korea Was Demolishing Its Main Nuclear Bomb Testing Site
As it had promised. That facility — made up of deep tunnels carved into a mountain — was already partially collapsed; the result of previous tests.