Has Trump pulled North Korea’s nuclear teeth?


THERE is still sufficient reason to doubt that Kim Jong Un will stick to the deal he cut Tuesday with President Trump. Leopards do not normally change their spots. Kim and his family before him have made many commitments in the past which they have then not honored.

Nevertheless, he has agreed to abandon his nuclear weapons program and also to demolish North Korea’s missile testing site. Both of these key moves would be subject to consistent monitoring by the Americans. In return Trump has made one big concession which is the withdrawal of US troops from South Korea. This also means the Americans would withdraw their battlefield nuclear weapons which it is widely believed they maintain in their bases in the south.

But the US president made it clear, both to Kim in their 40-minute meeting in Singapore and afterward, that he was not going to move before the Pyongyang regime acts. The Washington-led sanctions stay in place.

But then came the really interesting part, on which many analysts have not chosen to focus. Trump said that in return for Kim’s compliance with the deal, the US would guarantee North Korea’s security. This deserves closer examination. It could merely mean that Washington would rein in the South Koreans who, despite the paranoia of Pyongyang’s hermit kingdom, given Seoul’s entirely defensive military posture, is a no-brainer. But there seems to be rather more. Until now, China has underwritten North Korea’s security, as well as sustained its tottering economy with food, fuel and power deliveries. Has Trump offered to replace Beijing’s subventions and then some, from America’s own resources? Has he also given person security and financial guarantees to Kim and his ruling clique which will ensure their survival as and when the two halves of the Korean peninsular reunite?

It should not be forgotten that historically there has been little love lost between the Chinese and the Koreans, who like the Vietnamese have always resisted encroachment from China. The relationship between Beijing and Pyongyang was always one of political convenience. Kim with his nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles was always a useful threat against American interests. But suddenly, by pulling out his big pocket book, Trump may have just wrested the North Koreans out of Beijing’s orbit. It seems certain that the Chinese leadership will not have been all smiles at the US president’s apparent coup. Indeed, it can now be expected that Beijing will pull out all stops to frustrate both the arrival of US influence in Pyongyang and the likely re-emergence of a unified Korea.

What is so disturbing is that many of Washington’s allies almost certainly wanted the Singapore talks to end in humiliating failure for a US president whom they abhor for his boorishness refusal to play the polite and cozy geopolitical game. Yet it is precisely because Trump is the rough-edged man he is, that he brought the North Korean leader to the negotiating table and extracted the terms he did.

The Arab world must hope that the US leader really has carried off the success he so bombastically claims. If he turns out to be right, the impact on the Iranian leadership is likely to be profound. Pulling Pyongyang’s nuclear teeth will surely inevitably lead to similar dentistry with Tehran and hopefully transform another rogue state into a good neighbor.