Editorial | Summing up the summit

Editorial | Summing up the summit

President Donald Trump has once again demonstrated his capacity to surprise.

One never knows what will come next at the Trump White House — tariffs, resignations or, potentially, groundbreaking diplomacy?

It was the latter last week when White House and South Korean officials announced that an impulsive President Donald Trump will be meeting sometime in the next few months with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to discuss the ongoing controversy over that country's ever-growing nuclear weapons program.

Given the stunning nature of the announcement and the lack of negotiations that preceded it, there's no guarantee this meeting will even take place. Even harder to determine is what will come out of it because it's unclear what is going into it.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has suggested he might be willing to abandon that country's nuclear ambitions for the right price. Given his obsessive effort to build a nuclear arsenal, it's certain to be high — not just weakening or abandoning economic sanctions but perhaps the U.S. withdrawal of troops from South Korea and more.

That's why President Trump has to be prepared to walk away without any agreement if the price of getting one is too high.

However this plays out, the proposed meeting is a historical first between two men who have been exchanging public insults for months. President Trump has derided Kim Jong Un as "little rocket man" while Kim Jong Un lambasted Trump as "the mentally deranged U.S. dotard."

Relations between the U.S. and North Korea have ranged from terrible to even more terrible since North Korea's 1950 invasion of South Korea. The conflict eventually resulted in a cessation of hostilities three years later, but that war never has officially ended.

The U.S. and North Korea have been at swords' points ever since. But what passes for peace — an absence of all-out war — has held.

Now, of course, North Korea's nuclear ambitions have its neighbors — South Korea and Japan — deeply concerned about their security while China, North Korea's ally, is determined that events not get out of hand.

That, obviously, is what the planned meeting between Trump, the celebrity-turned-president, and Kim Jong Un, the third in a line of family members to rule ruthlessly, is aimed at avoiding.

This gathering, however, will be without precedent in more ways than one.

When leaders of major countries get together for important talks, they're usually preceded by meetings of high-level diplomats from each side to work out an agenda and set the stage for successful negotiations. That may happen in this case. The White House followed up its announcement with the added proviso that certain understandings must be achieved between the two parties. Until that happens, of course, it's just talk.

That's why, absent a miracle, it would be naive to hold out much hope for a negotiating breakthrough that would persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

The main question is what North Korea wants and what it will give up to get what it wants?

It's no stranger to negotiating successfully with foreign foes, including the U.S., over its nuclear ambitious, routinely obtaining concessions in the form of foreign economic aid in exchange for promises to slow or abandon its nuclear program.

But North Korea doesn't keep its promises, and that kind of bait-and-switch cannot continue.

It's hard to believe that President Trump, given his repeated aggressive statement about North Korea, has any intention of allowing it to do so.

But if Trump appears adamant about North Korea abandoning its nuclear missile program, Kim Jong Un appears equally determined not to do so. That will give them plenty to talk about, but an agreement will likely remain elusive.

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