President Donald Trump continued to defend his budding relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Monday, demanding credit for his role in making “initial steps toward a deal” by establishing a personal rapport with the young dictator during last week’s summit in Singapore.
“If President Obama (who got nowhere with North Korea and would have had to go to war with many millions of people being killed) had gotten along with North Korea and made the initial steps toward a deal that I have, the Fake News would have named him a national hero!” Trump tweeted.
Amid lingering skepticism over North Korea’s commitment to complete denuclearization in the wake of the Singapore summit, Trump has aggressively pushed the idea that Kim is sincere in his intentions and that the two leaders were able to develop a unique chemistry.
It’s a conviction South Korean officials share. South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Lim Sung-Nam said Monday in Washington that any diplomatic progress should be credited to the connection that Trump and Kim established through an “unprecedented top-down approach” to negotiations.
“The actors for this top-level diplomacy are completely different leaders as compared to the past,” Lim told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Moreover, the personal chemistry between them has been unique as well.”
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, asked about Trump’s praise for Kim, suggested the President is as willing to use carrots as he would be — if necessary — to use sticks. “If you try to play Trump or back out, there’s going to be a war and nobody wants war,” Graham told CNN.
Trump’s claims to a cozy relationship may reflect an effort to butter-up Kim “to make it easier to get a better deal,” Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio told CNN last week.
Indeed, the administration hopes that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo can build on that rapport to create substantial movement toward denuclearization.
But sources have told CNN that there is nothing to suggest that North Korea has begun destroying its missile launch sites, despite Trump’s repeated claims to the contrary and his declaration last week that the country is no longer a nuclear threat.
Harry Harris, Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to South Korea, said last week that North Korea continues to be a nuclear threat and that major military exercises should be paused to give Kim a chance to prove whether he is “serious.”
Trump announced in Singapore that the US would suspend “war games” with South Korea and Japan, taking Seoul, Tokyo, lawmakers and parts of the US military by surprise.
Additionally, several US defense officials said that, so far, there is no indication that Kim has made good on his promise to return the remains of prisoners of war and soldiers declared missing in action during the Korean War — something Trump has repeatedly said the two leaders agreed upon during their meeting.
These officials also cautioned that a lengthy DNA verification process would be needed when and if any remains are returned to the US.
In South Korea, however, the prism is different. Discussions center less on Trump’s achievements or lack of them, or his failures to live up to his own word, and more on the possibilities his summit opened up — in particular his new relationship with Kim.
While critics continue to suggest that Trump failed to secure concrete concessions from North Korea — including guarantees related to verifiable irreversible denuclearization and ending human rights abuses — South Korean officials have publicly credited the US President for facilitating the signing of the Panmunjom declaration and the Singapore statement, despite questions over specific terms.
“President Trump has made an unprecedented strategic decision to meet face-to-face with the leader of the DPRK,” Vice Foreign Minister Lim said, noting that Trump accounted for cultural considerations in dealing with Kim by showing him “due respect” and treating “him as a leader of a state.”