In what looked to many more like an attention-seeking photo op rather than a meeting of any substance, President Trump stepped 20 paces into North Korea today to meet briefly with Kim Jong Un. This move has been broadly slammed by Trump’s potential opponents in 2020, among others, who, according to The Hill, accused Trump of “coddling dictators” (Biden), “squandering American influence on photo ops and exchanging love letters with a ruthless dictator” (Warren), and expressed concern over “his incredible inconsistencies” (Sanders), among other negative comments.
Trump, by entering North Korea, made history by becoming the first U.S. President ever to do so, a factor which only adds to the sense that Trump was more interested in the photo op and attention than in making any substantive progress in negotiations looking to quell North Korea’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for relief of sanctions. Trump and Kim, after a much-photographed greeting 20 steps into North Korea, then met for about 50 minutes on the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone. Some were concerned that Trump’s stunt undercut the value of the sanctions that are in place against North Korea, and gave Kim Jong Un, a ruthless dictator, greater standing on the world stage than he deserves based on his actions. Some also suggested that Trump was usurping and undercutting the efforts of the State Department, whose substantive diplomatic activities are likely the key to any real progress in relations with North Korea. According to The Hill:
Democrats running for president on Sunday panned President Trump for stepping onto North Korean soil, then meeting with the nation’s leader Kim Jong Un as ill-conceived and a waste of American bargaining power. …Democrats immediately went on the attack Sunday morning, painting the meeting as an amateur move unlikely to produce any meaningful agreement on North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile testing program. A spokesman for former Vice President Joe Biden, the democratic frontrunner, hit Trump for “coddling” dictators, citing his chummy meetings with Kim and Russian President Vladimir Putin. “President Trump’s coddling of dictators at the expense of American national security and interests is one of the most dangerous ways that he’s diminishing us on the world stage and subverting our values as a nation,” said Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates. …“What’s going to happen tomorrow and the next day? He has weakened the State Department. If we’re going to bring peace to this world, we need a strong State Department, we need to move forward diplomatically, not just do photo opportunities,” he (Bernie Sanders) said.
Trump and Kim have previously had two unproductive summits, also more of appearance than substance, emerging from negotiations to give sanctions relief to North Korea if Kim agrees to curtail his country’s nuclear program and allow inspections to ensure compliance. Yet Trump continues to tout what he calls his “great relationship” with Kim Jong Un, a murderous dictator. It is indeed odd how Trump touts his great relationships with dictators like Kim and Putin, rather than with the democratic leaders of the United States’ closest allies. Trump appears in his comments to envy the lack of public criticism leaders of dictatorships have, but of course they have that because of their menace, their restrictions on freedom of the press and freedom of speech, and the climate of fear they cultivate in their countries.