How can it be possible for any seemingly rational and strategically able leader, to agree to talks with North Korea, then cancel them and only days later change his mind? Is this the work of a high stakes gambler or a dizzying genius?
Here's the timeline:
Trump Tweet: 'North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the "Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times." Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger and more powerful one that his, and my Button works!
North Korea sends athletes and delegates to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Fast forward a month:
South Korean presidential national security director says the North Korean leader is willing to discuss the fate of his nuclear arsenal with the US.
Trump accepts Kim's invitation to meet
April 18thTrump confirms that Mike Pompeo, then the CIA chief, had met secretly with Kim in North Korea and said "a good relationship was formed"
Kim holds a summit meeting with Moon. The leaders announce aspirational goals of a nuclear-free peninsula and permanent peace.
North Korea says it has suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests and plans to close its nuclear test site.
Trump tweeted, "This is very good news for North Korea and the World" and "big progress!"North Korea has agreed to suspend all Nuclear Tests and close up a major test site."
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)
Fast-forward a month:
Trump announces he will meet Kim in Singapore on June 12.
Fast-forward 12 days:
Trump and Moon meet at the White House.
North Korean senior diplomat Choe Son Hui releases a statement referring to Vice President Mike Pence as a "political dummy".
Trump writes to Kim Jong Un: "It is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting."
— The White House (@WhiteHouse)
Moon says Trump's move to cancel the summit was "very perplexing".North Korea says it's still willing to sit for talks.
Fast-forward 7 days
Trump announces he will meet with Kim Yong Un after all, as planned, on 12th May.
So here we are. A war of words. Misunderstanding? Grandstanding by two Mad Genius'? Or two Happy Gamblers? Perhaps most telling is Trump's acceptance that unilateral nuclear disarmament is likely to be a 'drawn out process'. This is not only sensible - its obvious. Trump shouldn't have expected Chairman Kim to go the whole hog on day one. "It's a process, we're not going to go in and sign something on June 12th and we never were.
'We are going to start a process. And I told them today: take your time. We can go fast, we can go slowly. I think they'd like to see something happen and if we can work something out that will be good."
This statement is statesman-like, mature, realistic and most importantly, illustrates that Trump is managing expectations on all sides. I think Trump knew all along that he was holding a better hand when on 3rd January he Tweeted, 'Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger and more powerful one that his, and my Button works!"
Trump's right: Kim's regime is ruined, his people are starving and US / Western sanctions have crippled his country. Oh - and his nukes are bigger and more powerful. Trump's a very Happy Gambler. We just have to hope the gamble pays off.