14 June 2018
14 June 2018

It was the handshake seen around the world.

In a matter of seconds, history was made as Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un convened the very first summit between the leaders of the United States and North Korea.

Kim initially suggested the meeting several months ago. It was on… then it was off… and then it was on again. Finally, on a hot, humid morning in Singapore, the reality TV-star-turned-President of the United States sat down with the foe he once referred to as “Little Rocket Man.”

Yes, it was a moment for the history books. But how much of it was show? And how much was substance?

Before leaving Singapore, President Trump talked with reporters about the prospects for finally freeing the Korea peninsula from the threat of nuclear weapons. He said officials from the two sides will “get this stuff done. We want to get it done. He (Kim) wants to get it done.”

Trump — ever the showman — opened the press conference with a short video that he said he played for Kim Jong-un on an iPad. The video — which looks like a promo for an upcoming Hollywood movie — transitions from images of military hardware to scenes that show all that could await North Korea if it changes course.

“I think he loved it,” Trump said. And in a rather surreal moment, the President drew on his real estate background to note the video depicted some great beaches in North Korea that would be perfect for development. Just think of all those waterfront condos!

President Trump insisted he made no concessions, though he did talk about ending US military drills with the South Koreans and eventually drawing down American forces there. He said he believes Kim will start the process of denuclearization right away, adding “peace is always worth the effort.”

Everyone is for peace. But given the vagueness of the joint statement released at the conclusion of the summit, some wonder if this attempt will actually work.

Ambassador Chris Hill — who served as chief US negotiator with North Korea from 2005 until 2009 was not impressed. He said on MSNBC that the final summit statement appeared to be drafted quickly and is missing key words like “verify.”

That is essential because ending North Korea’s nuclear program is likely to be the most challenging disarmament undertaking ever attempted. And while the President noted he may be disappointed in the long run, he does believe there is a firm commitment at the top of the North Korean regime,  noting Kim is “a very talented man. I also learned that he loves his country very much.”

Trump said he would leave Singapore exhausted but pleased with the results of the summit and committed to further meetings with the North Korean leader. He said “we will have a terrific relationship, I have no doubt.”

It all fits in with the White House’s assessment of the President’s first 500 days in office — a milestone that he passed earlier this month. When asked at the time to name his biggest foreign policy accomplishment, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders replied:

“I think that there have been a number of major foreign policy achievements. Certainly, I think the strengthening of relationships with a number of foreign leaders.”

Like Kim Jung-un and Vladimir Putin.

But when it comes to America’s longest and closest allies, well, things aren’t looking very good right now.

Compare Trump’s kind words for the reclusive, unorthodox leader of one of the world’s most repressive regimes to his recent statements about the Prime Minister of Canada.

Immediately before heading to Singapore, Trump went to Canada for the annual Group of Seven Summit —  a gathering that he clearly did not want to attend on his way to meet with Kim Jong-un.

The G-7 is at odds over trade — specifically new U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum — and Trump’s insistence that Russia should be readmitted to the fold.

Candid photos of the G-7 participants — especially one taken by a photographer for the German delegation — show the tensions so well hidden in their public appearances. And to make things even worse, Trump arrived at sessions late and left the summit early — well before Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in his role as head of the host country, held a wrap-up press conference.

Safe in the cocoon of Air Force One, Trump initially tweeted about the “great meetings and relationships” he found in Quebec. That was before he learned that Trudeau told reporters that Canadians “will not be pushed around” on trade.

Infuriated, Trump did an about-face and let loose with a Twitter rant aimed both at Trudeau and the rest of the G-7:  Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan. He also  announced that the United States was backing out of the summit joint communique — a fragile document designed to at least gloss over the trade issue.

“Sorry, we cannot let our friends, or enemies, take advantage of us on trade anymore. We must put the American worker first!” he announced.

His aides were also fired up. Advisor Peter Navarro told Fox News: “There is a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy with Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door.” Navarro finally apologized for his choice of words days later.

The fact is, Trudeau had talked about retaliatory trade measures before the summit… his tone at that summit press conference was polite but firm… and he never called anyone a derogatory name, unlike the President and his men.

All it all, Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the G-7 communique was an unprecedented move and his stinging tweets amounted to  a slap at the face of a neighbor — and an alliance — that has stood with the United States in war and peace.

Nicholas Burns — a former high-level US diplomat now with Harvard University — put it this way in his own Twitter post:

“Trump at G-7 disastrous on so many levels: abandoning U.S. leadership of alliance critical to our economic future; alienating closest friends; shaming the Presidency with crass, irrational and truly abnormal behavior. A diplomatic nightmare.”

And then there were these thoughts from a man who has become the conscience of the US Senate. Arizona Republican John McCain is battling a lethal form of brain cancer, and in his final days he has come to embody those in Washington who are free to speak truth to power.

It was McCain who tried to calm the waters with a tweet to the shell-shocked members of what  some now call “The G-7 Minus One.”

“To our allies: Bipartisan majorities of Americans remain pro-free trade, pro-globalization & supportive of alliances based on 70 years of shared values. Americans stand with you, even if our president doesn’t.”


Paula Wolfson

Paula Wolfson is a veteran Washington correspondent who has covered three presidents and six presidential campaigns. She was the White House bureau chief for the Voice of America before switching to commercial radio, where she reported on science and health care policy, Recently she returned to her first love and is writing once again on American politics and foreign policy for halimiz.com

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