Be skeptical, if you wish, as to whether Tuesday’s undeniably historic meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jung-Un offered content to match the ceremony.
Doubters will have plenty of company.
Start with Trump’s own Republican Party. “China is trying to play President Trump through North Korea,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Kim has given up “nothing yet,” he said.
“If there is an agreement it must come to Congress for our approval,” Graham said, noting that North Korea has made promises twice to give up nuclear arms.
Still, he said he believes Kim views Trump differently than other presidents. Graham said approvingly that if North Korea does not give up weapons of mass destruction, Trump would would carry out “a military conflict to end their program.”
But in recent days fellow Republican Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) said he would “absolutely not” vote to authorize military action against Korea, attacking Graham as believing “that war is always the answer.”
In Japan, a relevant player, some skepticism is evident — for example, regarding Trump quickly acceding to drop joint military exercises with South Korea and others.
Fumio Ota, a retired Japanese admiral and foreign policy adviser, was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying Trump had “conceded too much to North Korea” without extracting “concrete commitments” from Pyongyang on denuclearization.
“Military exercises are a very strong bargaining chip and a way to pressure North Korea,” Ota said. “Mr. Trump should not have given it up.”
Democrats, of course, are reluctant to offer unqualified praise given the president’s irascible persona. Last week Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said of Trump:
“If he tries to reach a deal with Kim Jong Un just for the sake of reaching a deal and the agreement fails to live up to principles we laid out, he will have been bested at negotiating table yet again.”
Still, 15 House Democrats signed a letter to Trump saying they were “encouraged” by his efforts.
Trump spoke post-summit of a “special bond” with Kim. In the excitement of the day, it is easy to forget how quickly such talk can reverse.
Only last July the president declared: “We have a great neighbor in Canada and Justin is doing a spectacular job in Canada. Everybody loves him and they love him for a reason. So congratulations on the job you are doing.”
For whatever reason, Trump en route to Korea decided to call Trudeau “weak” while aides spoke of a “special place in hell” for the host’s “backstabbing” following the G-7 during the weekend.
Check back next week, next month or next year on North Korea, and the landscape may look quite different.