Based on his comments after last week’s G-7 summit in Canada, President Donald Trump seems to put a lot of stock in first impressions.
“I think within the first minute, I’ll know,” Trump said Saturday about his upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. “I think very quickly I’ll know whether or not something good is going to happen.”
Trump and Kim are scheduled to hold their first face-to-face meeting in Singapore on Tuesday. Special coverage of the event from NPR and the BBC begins Monday night at 8 p.m. on WBEZ.
The meeting between the two leaders will be one-on-one — with translators only — according to a statement from the White House.
University of Chicago history professor Bruce Cumings said that arrangement means we may never know what really happened.
“I think almost any of our diplomats would recommend against a two-hour meeting with just the two of them and the interpreters,” Cumings told Worldview host Jerome McDonnell. “A) Because you don’t know really what happened — you’re dependent on the two of them. And B) Maybe there’s no record of it. And Trump can come out and say anything he wants about it.”
Cumings helped provide a preview of the historic summit. Below are highlights from the conversation.
‘He’s so mercurial’
Bruce Cumings: I find predicting what’s going to happen at the summit very difficult — not because of Kim Jong Un, who came with an entire entourage of high officials to Singapore and who will be very well briefed and prepared, as North Koreans always are in diplomatic discussions. I have no idea what Trump is going to do because he’s so mercurial. I don’t know anyone, including himself, who can predict his behavior.
Trump’s ‘one great advantage’
Cumings: But I’m fairly optimistic because Trump wants a good outcome — something like a peace treaty to end the Korean War — and he has one great advantage: He’s completely unbeholden to the foreign policy establishment in Washington, which, over the last 25 years, whether it’s Democrats or Republicans, have had a very long laundry list of what the North Koreans have to do before we recognize them. So it could be that this is a silver lining to the cloud of Trump’s diplomacy.
To end the Korean War, recognize North Korea
Cumings: You really can’t make a peace treaty that you have no diplomatic relations with. So it probably presupposes that we would recognize North Korea for the first time in 70 years. Their anniversary is in September — the 70th year of the founding of the regime.
I think China will be very happy to assist the United States and North Korea and South Korea in bringing an end to the Korean War. I think they’ll feel that they benefit from it. And guess what? It leaves a more questionable rationale for why the U.S. should continue to be involved in Korea with 28,000 troops.
Exchanging American aid for denuclearization?
Cumings: For the U.S. to provide a billion or two of aid to North Korea in return for getting rid of their nukes and really lessening the tension on the peninsula would be chump change. And I frankly think that Trump is just bargaining when he says things like that. He’d like to get South Korea and China to ante up more help for North Korea. But I imagine if we do get a denuclearization deal, there’ll be quite a bit of American aid in return.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Click on the ‘play’ button above to listen to the entire segment.