President Donald Trump wants to invite North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to the White House if the June 12 nuclear summit in Singapore goes well.
During a press conference alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday afternoon, Trump said he would “certainly” have no issue hosting Kim in America — and would even be willing to do it at his Mar-a-Lago hotel if the North Korean leader doesn’t want to come to Washington.
That’s remarkable. American leaders typically reserve meetings at the White House as a major honor for key allies and top friends. Presidents don’t habitually welcome murderous dictators to the White House (although, as Vice pointed out, basically every president cozies up to a dictator at some point). Trump doesn’t see anything wrong with hosting Kim in America: “I think that could happen,” he told reporters.
In March, Trump also invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
But that’s not all. Trump also said that he “would certainly like to see normalization with North Korea.”
“Normalization” in diplomatic speak means that both countries send diplomats to each other’s countries and start to develop economic ties. They would effectively work toward building a, well, normal relationship between Washington and Pyongyang — a relationship that has remained poor for decades.
Experts I spoke to said that’s something North Korea has wanted for years because it would legitimize the Kim regime in the eyes of the world. In 2005, for example, North Korea vowed to dismantle its nuclear capabilities in exchange for normalization of relations between the two countries.
One of the ways Trump might improve those ties is by signing a declaration to end the Korean War when he meets with Kim next week. That war ended in 1953 with an armistice — not a formal peace treaty — which means the war is technically still going on. Formally ending the conflict would be a powerful symbol that hostilities on the Korean Peninsula may, possibly, be coming to a close.
At a minimum, Trump could sign a peace treaty with North Korea, which Pyongyang also wants. According to the Pentagon and the CIA, North Korea worries about a US-led invasion to overthrow the Kim regime. That, mostly, Kim has no incentive to dismantle his nuclear program since he sees it as a deterrent against foreign invasion.
Trump also gave away how the public — and North Korean officials — could tell if the summit went poorly: He’ll say the words “maximum pressure” again after the meeting.
Here’s what that means: The Trump administration has put massive sanctions on North Korea as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign. The goal is to squeeze Pyongyang financially to the point that Kim has no choice but to dismantle his nuclear program.
Trump stopped using the phrase in May once it was clear he would meet with Kim, even though the US has not lifted any sanctions yet. But it looks like he will bring the phrase back if the North Korean leader spurns him in Singapore.
That’s a lot for a brief press conference. Ankit Panda, a North Korea specialist and a senior editor of the Diplomat magazine, summarized it all just minutes afterward in a tweet.
So, on table for June 12 should things go well, as of Trump's recent remarks:— Ankit Panda (@nktpnd) June 7, 2018
— declaration on end of Korean War
— move toward normalization
— agreement on moving toward a peace treaty
— invitation for Kim Jong Un to the US
— no sanctions relief until denuclearization (per Abe)
Kim has given little away. Trump has offered a lot.
It’s unclear what Trump and Kim may agree to in Singapore, but so far Kim hasn’t offered much. Trump, meanwhile, has.
The press conference is a case in point. Not only is Trump acting overly friendly toward Kim, but he’s also given some concessions already. Last month, the US downsized a joint military exercise with South Korea because Pyongyang didn’t like it.
Meanwhile, there’s no indication that Kim will severely curb his nuclear arsenal, remove nuclear materials, or dramatically improve the human rights conditions in his country. Kim did blow up North Korea’s only known nuclear testing site on May 24 and razed a missile test site, but those moves haven’t severely diminished his nuclear capabilities. He also released three American hostages in early May, seemingly as a sign of good faith.
In a sense, Trump is already offering a lot before getting much. Of course, that could all change after the Singapore meeting — abruptly ending the current period of magnanimity.