Saturday 19 October 2019

A piece of political theatre - but no denying this was a big ratings win for White House

'Mr Trump has also carefully cultivated elaborately staged moments that, strung together, reveal a president eager to play the roles of producer and director, calling the camera shots, hyping the drama and building public expectations for a big reveal.' Photo: Reuters
'Mr Trump has also carefully cultivated elaborately staged moments that, strung together, reveal a president eager to play the roles of producer and director, calling the camera shots, hyping the drama and building public expectations for a big reveal.' Photo: Reuters

David Nakamura

For Donald Trump, it was the biggest live show yet: a handshake with North Korea's Kim Jong-un, and then a short stroll together, beyond freedom's frontier and into the hermit kingdom.

One small step for the 45th president, one giant boost for his television ratings.

Mr Trump billed his third meeting with Mr Kim in the Korean demilitarised zone as a "simple handshake", perhaps to play down the consequences if the get-together fails to break the deadlock that scuttled their last round of nuclear talks in Hanoi in February.

But the moment was more than simple, it marked another in a series of remarkable set pieces that Mr Trump has used over the past two years - first to bully Kim, then engage him - in a diplomatic gambit with no precedent.

Critics often accuse the media-obsessed US president of trying to conduct complex diplomacy on Twitter, the place where "little rocket man" and "fire and fury" were born during the early days of Mr Trump's tenure when he and Mr Kim were chest-beating in a barrage of threats.

Yet Mr Trump has also carefully cultivated elaborately staged moments that, strung together, reveal a president eager to play the roles of producer and director, calling the camera shots, hyping the drama and building public expectations for a big reveal.

"I want to thank Chairman Kim," Mr Trump told reporters after their meeting at the DMZ. "If he did not show up, I know the press would make me look really bad. So I appreciated it."

Sceptics have accused Mr Trump of elevating style over substance in his North Korea strategy, pointing out that a memorandum signed by the two leaders in Singapore last year contained no detailed road map and helped lead to the unsuccessful summit in Hanoi.

US intelligence agencies said the North continues to develop its programme in secret, even though it has maintained a testing ban on nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Mr Trump countered that each meeting is part of a larger process.

All presidents employ elements of political theatre to advance their governing agenda. The press pool of reporters that shadows the president by definition turns even his most mundane movements into a daily live journal, amplified in an era of social media and round-the-clock cable news.

Every president since Ronald Reagan, except George HW Bush, visited the Korean DMZ, most of them donning a military bomber jacket and staring across the barren border.

Mr Trump, ever the showman, tweeted on Saturday while in Osaka for a global summit to announce that he would visit the DMZ, and he extended an invitation to Mr Kim to meet him.

Some experts, noting how much security goes into arranging head-of-state meetings, especially with a regime as paranoid about safety threats as the Kim family, speculated that the meeting was planned well in advance.

But Mr Trump, along with Mr Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, said that everything came into place after the president's tweet. US officials also said privately that they were caught by surprise.

Mr Trump appeared to delight in keeping reporters guessing how events would unfold. At the DMZ, reporters gathered to cover his arrival. CNN went to live coverage with a view of the barren military installation and anchor Jim Sciutto tweeted a video of Marine One passing overhead.

Then came Mr Trump, striding toward the dividing line between North and South Korea in Panmunjom village, where blue negotiating rooms straddle the 38th parallel. As he passed the cameras, one could see Mr Kim, tiny at first, then coming into clearer view, approach from the other side.

They shook hands and then Mr Trump stepped over the line into the North - the first sitting president to do so.

North Korea's state media reporters rushed to capture the moment as Mr Trump and Mr Kim strolled about 10 yards to the steps leading to a building usually guarded by soldiers.

And then they turned and walked back toward the American and South Korean reporters on the other side. Soon, they were surrounded in a scrum and the president was addressing the cameras, flanked by Mr Kim.

"I think it's historic," Trump said. "It's a great day for the world." But the president wasn't done yet. Speaking later, he said he had invited the North Korean dictator to visit the US. (© Washington Post)

Irish Independent

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