August 15, 2018

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Beyond the photo-op, not much to report

Editorial

U.S. President Donald Trump was clearly pleased by what he had to say after his much-anticipated summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Now it’s up to the rest of the world to assess the challenges and dangers posed by what wasn’t said.

What Mr. Trump offered to the assembled media throng amounted to platitudes and generalities. “Honest, direct and productive,” was how he described his encounter with the North Korean dictator, adding that, “We got to know each other well in a very confined period of time.”

Calling the summit “a very great day,” the U.S. president offered a less-than-detailed description of how the joint statement signed by the two leaders will lead to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

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U.S. President Donald Trump was clearly pleased by what he had to say after his much-anticipated summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Now it’s up to the rest of the world to assess the challenges and dangers posed by what wasn’t said.

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un (left) and U.S. President Donald Trump (Susan Walsh / The Associated Press)</p>

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un (left) and U.S. President Donald Trump (Susan Walsh / The Associated Press)

What Mr. Trump offered to the assembled media throng amounted to platitudes and generalities. "Honest, direct and productive," was how he described his encounter with the North Korean dictator, adding that, "We got to know each other well in a very confined period of time."

Calling the summit "a very great day," the U.S. president offered a less-than-detailed description of how the joint statement signed by the two leaders will lead to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

"People thought this could never take place," Mr. Trump said. "It is now taking place."

What the president didn’t explain, however, is how the U.S. — along with an international community of allies he has largely alienated with his Twitter sniping and soundbite broadsides — is going to ensure North Korea follows through on this week’s loosely framed commitment to remove itself from the ranks of the world’s nuclear powers.

There was no mention of independent verification of the proposed nuclear-weapons dismantling, and no hint of how the as-yet-undefined agreement will be enforced.

President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sentosa Island in Singapore. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sentosa Island in Singapore. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Beyond the predictable self-congratulatory asides ("My whole life has been deals. I have done great at it. That’s what I do. I know when somebody wants to deal and I know when somebody doesn’t."), Mr. Trump offered no insights regarding why this handshake from Mr. Kim should be trusted more than the tangle of broken treaties and defied sanctions that preceded it.

And perhaps as troubling as the non-specificity of the denuclearization discussion is the fact Mr. Trump seemed to completely ignore North Korea’s horrendous history of human-rights abuses — under the oppressive rule of Mr. Kim and his late father, tens of thousands have been murdered or imprisoned; some estimates suggest as many as 120,000 citizens are currently locked up in the country’s network of gulags.

Even within the ruling-family circle, the abuses are legendary: in addition to having ordered more than 340 people executed, Mr. Kim is accused of arranging the murder of his own uncle and half-brother.

North Korea's Kim Jong Un, third from left, shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump, third from right, in Singapore. (Kevin Lim/The Straits Times/Zuma Press/TNS)

North Korea's Kim Jong Un, third from left, shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump, third from right, in Singapore. (Kevin Lim/The Straits Times/Zuma Press/TNS)

Since assuming the mantle of "Supreme Leader" in 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader has largely been a pariah in the global community because of the aforementioned human-rights atrocities and his fanatical pursuit of a nuclear-weapons arsenal.

But this week, the U.S. president, who has famously derided Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as "dishonest and weak" and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the "person who is ruining Germany," offered glowing praise for the North Korean despot, calling Mr. Kim "a very talented man" who "loves his country very much."

Intentionally or otherwise, Mr. Trump has legitimized Mr. Kim in a manner his predecessors were careful to avoid.

While it’s fair to suggest not much of what Mr. Trump said before boarding Air Force One for the 25-hour flight back to Washington, D.C., was particularly enlightening to observers of international diplomacy, it’s also probably a safe bet that most folks who understand global issues heard more than enough to confirm what they already knew: the Trump/Kim summit was a photo-op, and not much more.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

History

Updated on Tuesday, June 12, 2018 at 9:52 PM CDT: Fixes typo.

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