- Korea Summit Press Pool/Getty Images
- By cancelling the June 12 summit with Kim Jong Un, President Donald Trump may have just handed North Korea it’s best diplomatic win yet.
- Kim is in a stronger position to not fully denuclearize and China is no longer pushing Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign.
- North Korea also gained a new level of much-craved legitimacy in the latest round of talks with the US, South Korea, and China.
- But despite Trump announcing their cancellation, North Korea still wants the talks to proceed as it would provide the ultimate prize: being seen as an equal partner to the US.
When President Donald Trump cancelled the June 12 summit with North Korea, he may have given Kim Jong Un something he wanted.
While many experts believed the summit between the two leaders was happening too soon and without enough diplomatic preparation, experts also feel Trump’s decision to dramatically – and publicly – cancel the summit has not only given North Korea an air of legitimacy but also the ability to keep the nuclear program that essentially guaranteed the regime’s safety.
It is “a bad day for the US,” according to Vipin Narang, a nuclear strategy expert at MIT.
“North Korea (1) keeps its nukes, (2) broke maximum pressure by peeling China off, (3) damaged the US-ROK alliance, (4) baited Trump into pulling out of the meeting making the US look like the guilty party,” he tweeted.
After Trump accepted the proposed meeting with Kim, China scrambled to put together meetings of its own that touched on trade and cooperation in ways that wouldn’t have happened before.
“I was just making that case, adding that if Kim is smart he’d stay quiet for now. He has won: he keeps his nuclear weapons & is in a better position to focus on economic development b/c regional actors (read: China, maybe Russia too) are unlikely to go hard w/him,” David Santoro, a director and a senior fellow of nuclear policy programs at Pacific Forum CSIS, tweeted.
But as much as the safety of Kim seems attached to his nuclear weapons, the country has long craved a meeting with a US president and it doesn’t appear to have given up hope yet.
On Friday, a senior North Korean official reportedly indicated the country’s desire, at least in the public eye, to keep its commitment to the summit.
“We express our willingness to sit down face-to-face with the US and resolve issues anytime and in any format,” they said in a statement.
Regardless of how much legitimacy may have come from Kim recently meeting with the presidents of South Korea and China, North Korea has a huge desire for the propaganda boon that a photo op with a sitting US president would bring.
“Meeting the leader of the free world is automatically legitimacy branding… If you’re the North Koreans, you want to meet them because it symbolizes you’re a real country, not a backward, feudal, Orwellian fiefdom, which is what North Korea really is,” Robert Kelly, an expert on politics at South Korea’s Pusan National University, said recently.
While the talk of North Korea wanting legitimacy can be overemphasized at times, The Diplomat’s senior editor Ankit Panda agreed on Twitter that the cancelled summit will have contributed to North Korea being seen more like an ordinary country than ever before.
“I think the botched summit process has given North Korea all sorts of “legitimacy” notches with the US (commemorative coin included),” he said.