Monday 24 September 2018

'Rocket Man' hits the target with plot to be Trump's equal

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Photo: AP
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Photo: AP

Rob Crilly

After all the promises of fire and fury, the threat and the counter-threats, Thursday's announcement that Donald Trump is to meet "Rocket Man" Kim Jong-un by May is an extraordinary, historic moment in global politics.

It was also inevitable.

Mr Kim's entire strategy has been building to this hour while Mr Trump's options have been thin throughout (even if they all remained on the table, as he and his officials were so fond of saying).

Any reading of the past year suggests Mr Kim has played a blinder in plotting a course for wannabe nuclear powers to follow.

He made acquiring nuclear weapons the only goal of his brutal administration. His calculation was simple: Once he had nukes his family was safe from the sort of regime change seen in countries such as Iraq and Libya that gave up their programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction.

His latest offer to talk comes only after he has successfully tested not just an atomic bomb, but what appears to be a two-stage thermonuclear device as well as the long-range missiles to deliver such a deadly payload.

No wonder his officials say they will forgo any further tests. They don't need them.

They also can't afford them. All indications are that Office 39 - which was set up as the Kim family's slush fund and also channels cash from businesses to the nuclear programme - is struggling to stay afloat in the face of international sanctions.

So all in all, this is a good time for Mr Kim to meet an American president, which let us not forget has been a foreign policy goal of Pyongyang's for years.

Such a meeting poses more problems for Mr Trump. What can he really expect to get out of it?

The examples of Muammar Gadaffi and Saddam Hussein have been cited by Mr Kim as reasons not to give up his weapons. There is no reason to believe he has wavered in that view. He is not meeting Mr Trump to say he is abandoning his nukes.

Instead, Mr Trump gets a way out. He enjoyed ratcheting up tensions last year with his threats but was told repeatedly by his national security and military personnel that any sort of armed intervention (no matter how limited or pinpoint) risked sparking retaliation that would have killed millions of people on the Korean peninsula - including US personnel.

Covert ops and cyber attacks could do only so much.

Mr Trump is finally going to do the only thing he could ever do: enter into talks with North Korea as a way of finding a deal that can bring a degree of safety and stability to the region.

By failing to understand this was the only outcome, by failing to use China's power against North Korea in tightening the screws, he has ceded the initiative. But at least he has a way out and an option that does not risk war.

Mr Kim, on the other hand, is triumphant. His country's nuclear programme may have crippled its economy and made Pyongyang an international pariah, but it has delivered its ultimate goal - he will meet the President of America and be treated as an equal.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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