Kim Jong Un Thought He Has a Sucker on the Line. He Was Wrong.
There’s really no way to analyze the private thoughts of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, but his idea that he could get President Donald Trump to lift economic sanctions in exchange for another round of vague denuclearization promises shows that he’s not the craftiest leader on the world stage. Either he badly misread the position of the president going into the Hanoi summit or he thought he could get one over on a man he perceived as his intellectual inferior. In either scenario, he soon discovered that he was badly mistaken.
Without a second thought, President Trump – with a great deal of political capital on the line – got up from the proverbial table and walked away, leaving Kim Jong Un holding nothing but the same bevy of economy-crushing sanctions that he came to Vietnam with.
“Sometimes you have to walk,” said President Trump at a news conference on Wednesday. “It was about the sanctions. Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, but we couldn’t do that.”
In failing to close the deal – or at least move much closer to signing one – Kim Jong Un risks losing the best shot he’ll ever have of normalizing relations with the U.S. and the rest of the Western world. Making a deal with Trump is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It is unlikely that Kim will ever again be faced with a U.S. president as willing as Trump is to make something happen. He’ll be back to his old, tired, nuclear-testing tricks…and those will play out until the U.S. feels sufficiently threatened to do something about it. At that point, the North Korean regime will be over. Just like that.
In dealing with Trump, Kim has the chance to get a better deal than he would with any future or previous president. A chance to open up his economy and benefit from a working relationship with the U.S. Trump is giving him that opportunity without any particular discussion of the human rights situation in North Korea. That’s not an opportunity that will again come his way. It’s now or never, and Kim is an absolute fool if he holds out for a better deal. We do not doubt for a moment that, when and if he can prove full denuclearization, that Trump will indeed call for an end to any and all economic sanctions.
Kim is willing to pass that up. Now the question becomes…why?
Maybe the reclusive dictator never had any intention of making a deal. Maybe China has promised to keep him afloat if he holds the line against Trump. It’s hard to say.
Maybe he just thought he had a sucker on the line in the form of Donald Trump.
He was wrong.