Why you should care
Because Trump’s Nobel moment is proving elusive.
When Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum walked out of her Monday interview with Vice President Mike Pence, she saw daylight for the shaky proposed summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un. Pence had allowed a smidge of leeway on the question of whether North Korean denuclearization could happen in stages. “I did not see in any way the vice president trying to shut the door on it,” MacCallum told OZY yesterday, shortly after Trump shut the door himself.
The fallen dominoes were linked, at least in part, to another comment Pence made to MacCallum: “They asked for the meeting.” In a blistering statement, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister (and apparent Fox viewer) Choe Son Hui called Pence a “political dummy” and scoffed at comparisons to Libya — where Muammar Gaddafi gave up his nukes and was tossed out of power years later. Choe also added: “It is the U.S. who has asked for dialogue, but now it is misleading the public opinion as if we have invited them to sit with us.” Trump’s Thursday letter said he was canceling the summit because of Choe’s “tremendous anger and open hostility,” while pointing out: “We were informed that the meeting was requested by North Korea, but that to us is totally irrelevant.” The who-asked-whom-to-the-dance dispute “sounds a little bit eighth grade, doesn’t it?” MacCallum said.
It’s also risking what could have been Trump’s chief foreign policy triumph — one that both Democrats and Republicans could get behind, even if the absurdly premature Nobel Peace Prize talk was coming from only one side.
But it wasn’t Pence speaking out of turn. In fact, he and Trump appear to be on the same page on North Korea. The summit had been heading for troubled waters since Kim’s meeting early this month with Chinese President Xi Jinping, prompting a return to the old rhetoric from the regime. Plus, the North’s “concessions” were giving up hostages they never should have taken and blowing up a test facility that was being de-emphasized anyway, as its nuclear program shifts toward mass production. And given Trump’s reneging on Barack Obama’s sanctions relief-for-disarmament deal with Iran, it’s hard to imagine a similar framework with the Hermit Kingdom.
Despite the mutual cyberbullying, the Dotard–Little Rocket Man summit could still happen. Rather than a tweet, Trump wrote a formal letter Thursday in a friendly tone addressed to “His Excellency, Kim Jong Un.”
But walking away from the table, Art of the Deal style, does have one significant casualty: The special “challenge coins” with Trump’s and Kim’s faces on them, produced by the military to commemorate the summit. Perhaps soon these trinkets will be found on the streets of Guatemala alongside “Super Bowl LII Champion New England Patriots” T-shirts.
Did the long-term value of this just go up or down? pic.twitter.com/OsMIItP83r
— Evan Osnos (@eosnos) May 24, 2018