Trump-Kim summit: The Atlantic says Trump's unfamiliarity may lead to breakthrough, but NYT more sceptical

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walking with US President Donald Trump at the start of their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Singapore hotel on Sentosa on June 12, 2018.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walking with US President Donald Trump at the start of their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Singapore hotel on Sentosa on June 12, 2018. PHOTO: AFP
US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the courtyard of Capella Singapore before their meeting on June 12, 2018.
US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the courtyard of Capella Singapore before their meeting on June 12, 2018.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Western media pundits were mixed in their predictions for the outcome of Tuesday's summit between United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. 

While some said the unconventional styles of both leaders might just break decades of stalemate, others were more sceptical, highlighting Mr Trump's lack of preparation and Mr Kim's unpredictability.

 

Mr Trump will be offering a peace treaty, an American diplomatic presence in Pyongyang and economic aid, in return for Mr Kim's agreement on a plan to dismantle his nuclear arsenal, The New York Times reported on Monday (June 11).

In an optimistic analysis published on Monday, news magazine The Atlantic said Mr Trump may be an "ignorant, egotistical man", but added that his unfamiliarity with the details of denuclearisation, and his desire to be celebrated as a peacemaker, might just be his greatest asset.

"Because what matters most about the summit isn't whether it begins the process of eliminating every last ounce of Pyongyang's plutonium and enriched uranium," wrote contributing editor Peter Beinart. "What matters most is whether it begins the process of fundamentally changing the relationship between North Korea and the United States."

Mr Trump, who "tends to judge foreign leaders personally, not ideologically", could just form a bond with Mr Kim that may someday lead to peace, Mr Beinart added.

Meanwhile, The New Yorker's contributing writer Robin Wright said the two men will make history in Singapore simply by shaking hands. After all, this is the first time that a sitting US president has met a North Korean leader.

 
 
 
 

She said Mr Trump "may now face even greater pressure than Kim does to pull off a success in Singapore", given that just before arriving in Singapore, he had abruptly withdrawn from a tense Group of Seven (G-7) summit.

Still, she said, Mr Kim faces his own immense pressure too, as he has failed so far to make good on his promise to improve the North Korean economy in the face of United Nations sanctions.

She added too that Mr Trump may be able to rally his base no matter the outcome in Singapore - and he may even score points for standing up to the G-7.

The New York Times was more circumspect, saying in a news analysis on Monday that "for all his boasts about his deal-making prowess, Mr Trump has never been in a face-off with an adversary" like Mr Kim, nor "been in a negotiation with the risks of failure so stark".

The Times also reported that some of the officials who have prepared Mr Trump for dealing with North Korea "worry that he is so supremely confident in his negotiating skills that he has eschewed detailed briefings on how Mr Kim thinks about the world".

Similarly, The Washington Post filed a report on Tuesday morning just before the summit began, saying that Mr Trump's decision to meet Mr Kim in private for 45 minutes represents "a risky attempt" by the President to quickly size up Mr Kim's intentions based on their personal interactions.

The Post also highlighted that Mr Trump's improvisational style has some political observers worried he might make unwise concessions to Mr Kim, especially as wide gaps remain between the North Korean and US interpretations of what a verifiable denuclearisation programme would mean.

The Guardian, meanwhile, noted that even if the two leaders do sign a deal on Tuesday, it will mark only the start, not the end, of what promises to be a long road towards eventual peace.

After all, the lesson of two major deals with North Korea, in 1994 and 2005, is that it is much easier to reach agreements than to implement them, The Guardian's world affairs editor Julian Borger said.

"In fact, the complex, fraught process of implementation has usually brought with it new flashpoints and new crises," he wrote.

"Through three generations of the Kim dynasty, and successive US administrations, the biggest obstacle has not been reaching an agreement but making it stick. This has not only been a result of North Korea seeking to circumvent deals it has made, but a recurrent problem of US administrations sending conflicting signals, as different factions vie for control of policymaking."