What are we to make of the impending summit meeting between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump? Or, if you prefer, between Little Rocket Man and Big Rocket Man.
Damned if I know. It is a sentence I never thought I would be writing any time soon.
Credit where it’s due, my father might have said. But where exactly is it due? To Kim for getting off his high nuclear-powered horse? Or to Trump for bringing Kim to the table by rattling sabres? Or, if you will pardon yet another metaphor, to South Korea, for engineering the whole thing?
Or were the gods from Mount Olympus involved? It does seem, after all, that the process got underway during the recent Winter Olympics in South Korea, in which the two Koreas agreed to participate with a combined team, at least for the opening ceremony – a hint of a metaphorical thaw.
What do China and Japan think? Were they informed ahead of the announcement, which apparently followed a meeting at the White House with a South Korean diplomat yesterday? And where will the meeting be held? It is hard to see Kim agreeing to go the United States, or Trump to North Korea, since either venue would involve home-team advantage. Nor, presumably, would anywhere in China or Japan fit the bill, given their respective involvement in the Korean issue over the years.
No doubt all will be revealed in due course, but since the meeting is supposed to take place in May, the course will not be a long one by diplomatic standards.
Immediate reactions so far have run the gamut from elated to sceptical. Only weeks ago, Trump was deriding Kim as a menace to world peace, with Kim responding in kind by calling Trump mad. Ask some people and they will say that both men are a threat to world peace and both are mad – Trump because his judgements always seem to be based on self-promotion, Kim because he has pursued nuclear development at the expense of the well being of his people.
But then history is replete with meetings between sworn enemies, not in all instances a happy precedent; viz. Neville Chamberlain succumbing to the promises of Adolf Hitler. Still, for the reason quoted by Churchill – that jaw-jaw is always better than war-war – it seems churlish to find fault in this meeting.
The occasion should be, given the exchanged insults of the past year, nothing if not interesting. (“Good morning, Mr. Kim. You’re much taller than I’d expected. I’ll have to start calling you Medium-Sized Rocket Man.” “Good morning Mr. Trump, I’ve being dying to see that hairstyle of yours. I think mine is better.”) The question is whether it has the remotest chance of also being fruitful. That one will be picked over and aired by the think tanks for the next two months until we are all bewildered by the variety of opinions on offer. Even now, the commentariat will be busy trying to work out which man, the one with the Godzilla ego or the one with the King Kong model, starts out with the strategic or tactical, if not moral advantage.
My problem is that I would not trust either man with my late mother’s false teeth, let alone my own.
But who knows what may be afoot? Kim may have hidden domestic motives to do a deal at which we can only guess. Perhaps, now that he has achieved his aim of developing the capability to deliver a nuclear warhead, he feels that he has accomplished his mission, and can look the Americans in the face with pride. Trump will undoubtedly proclaim loudly that it was his badgering threats that produced this diplomatic ‘miracle’, which none of his predecessors came close to doing. Kim, in this scenario, blinked first.
I would give my false teeth, and much else besides, to be a fly on the wall at the May meeting. But I have no intention of offering anything just yet.
As the American newscasters like to say, “Stay tuned”.