- - Wednesday, May 23, 2018


The Democrats and their allied pundits are licking their chops at the prospect of supping on soup of bones from the collapse of the Singapore summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. Mr. Trump now rates the prospect of the summit even happening as no better than a toss of a coin.

The Democrats have had to wish the president well for the country’s sake, and the wishes are offered through gritted teeth. He continues to prepare for the talks that not so long ago promised relief from the North Korean threats to turn the United States to cinders, a friendship of a kind between Washington and Pyongyang, and maybe even a Nobel Prize for the president. He doesn’t need the $1.4 million that comes with the prize, but he could use the good publicity and the honor, such as it may be.

The same voices that were raised in caution only a fortnight or so ago, suggesting that Mr. Kim could not be trusted and a summit between the maximum leaders of the United States and North Korea would not be such a big deal, anyway, are about to burst restraint in anticipation of singing sad songs bashing Mr. Trump for letting a golden opportunity to make peace slip through fumbling fingers.

The president lowered expectations Wednesday, in line with his earlier assurances to skeptics of both right and left that he was ready to walk away from the talks if it turns out there’s no good reason to have them. “It may not work out for June 12th [in Singapore],” he told reporters, with the sadder but wiser tone of a diplomat who has seen it all. “I don’t want to waste a lot of time, and I’m sure [Mr. Kim] doesn’t want to waste a lot of time. So there’s a very substantial chance that it won’t work out.” No angry words, no insults, just resignation for accepting come what may.

The substantial sticking point, which is very substantial indeed, is whether North Korea really is willing to give up its nuclear-blackmail equipment, as Mr. Kim first suggested he might be. The United States and its close allies South Korea and Japan want immediate and verifiable removal of the North Korean weapons of mass destruction, and Pyongyang is now saying, not so fast.

Mr. Trump, playing the unaccustomed role of patient diplomat, says the United States is willing to give a little, but only over “a short period of time.” Certain conditions are necessary. “I think we’ll get those conditions. And if we don’t, we don’t have the meeting.”

The president hints that China, which otherwise poses as a sometime friend of the United States, may not be above throwing a little sand in the gears. He notes that Mr. Kim has made two recent trips to Beijing, the second time a surprise to the United States. “The second meeting,” the president says, “I think there was a little change in attitude from Kim Jong-un. The second time was like a surprise. I don’t like that. I think things changed after that meeting. So I can’t say that I’m happy about that. I think President Xi [of China] is a world-class poker player.”

The Democrats earlier accused Mr. Trump of ruining his chances of success in Singapore by pulling the United States out of Barack Obama’s sweetheart nuclear deal with the mullahs in Iran. If Mr. Trump would do that to Iran, so that argument goes, why should North Korea trust the United States not to disavow whatever agreement it makes with Pyongyang?

This misses the point that President Trump’s high-stakes negotiations with Mr. Kim all but required a pull-out of the Iran deal, argues Tod Lindberg in The Wall Street Journal. “If he had kept the [Iranian deal] in place notwithstanding his power to withdraw,” he writes, “Mr. Kim could seize on its provisions as the starting point for the coming [North Korean] negotiations. Why would Mr. Kim accept a worse deal for North Korea than what Iran had obtained?”

A good question, and world-class poker players know how to read fine print, and quickly. Leaving one bad deal undisturbed would have logically set the precedent for another bad deal. Mr. Trump has something of a reputation for playing poker, too. It would be a world-class sling in Singapore.

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