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Korean deal

15 June 2018

IF THE eyes of the world were on Singapore earlier this week, the world’s prayers were surrounding it, too. At least, after last year’s unnerving exchanges of bellicose nuclear rhetoric between President Trump and Chairman Kim, rare would be the church congregation who had not had the meeting there of those heads of state on their intercession list. If the three answers to prayer are Yes, No, or Wait, it is the third of these that appears to have been given. Unlike the G7 trade deal, the North Korean agreement was not subjected immediately to post-summit wrecking. The success of this diplomatic mission was, no doubt, too important. But there was a startling discrepancy between the vagueness of the published agreement and the details announced later to reporters.

The agreement appeared to let the North Korean bask under a global spotlight, in all the accoutrements of an international statesman, alongside the US President, without being committed to a timescale or verification for denuclearisation. But the US media conference suggested that verbal assurances had been given both on the first stages of this and on its verification. There was also, it was said, discussion of human rights, though, given the record of the US in foreign affairs, it is hard to believe that these are of the highest priority. President Trump, having played the bigger bully, now seemed to be going softly, softly, to build on the latest rapprochement between North and South. Similar moves have failed before, but President Trump brings his instincts as a businessman-politician who takes a chance and disregards orthodoxies.

It is all declared to be a matter of trust. Russia swiftly gave its view that, as the US President had withdrawn from the agreement with Iran, North Korea had no reason to trust him. Those who are sceptical about North Korean bona fides have a case, too. A sense of security without the cost of maintaining a vast military apparatus has eluded North Korea since the armistice that did not officially end the Korean War in 1953. It is a long time to hold a defensive posture; but it is reasonable to suppose that, if Chairman Kim could have both the comfort of his nuclear arsenal and the boost to domestic prosperity which an end to sanctions would bring, he would. Ultimately, the vindication of any gamble on the businessmanlike qualities of an authoritarian ruler whom President Trump describes as “talented” but not as “nice” depends on having estimated him correctly, and, if so, ensuring that he believes that his economic interests outweigh his military ones. You could call it due diligence.

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