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North Korea’s release of US prisoners doesn’t mean peace


High expectations for the coming summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump are unrealistic and dangerous


Hold the jubilation today as President Trump boarded the plane at Andrews Air Force base near Washington DC to greet three hostages released by North Korea. As a full presidential welcome celebrates this gesture of peace, expectations of the upcoming Trump/Kim summit soar dangerously high.


“A remarkable foreign policy moment for Donald Trump,” said the breathless BBC correspondent – as if hostages had never been strategically released before by Pyongyang. On the runway, asked if he hoped to go to North Korea himself, Trump said: “It could happen.”


Indeed, anything could happen with this irrational, impulsive president. Here’s the high risk: he expects total capitulation, and anything less than the “comprehensive, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation” being demanded of North Korea will see his mood turn to furious revenge. This first small gesture is a long way from the final goal. Will anything less than total victory satisfy the nervy vanity of the US leader?


North Korea has reneged on agreements before, its leader as unpredictable and combustible as the US president. So far, closing one nuclear test site is the first concrete offer. But negotiating the next stage requires subtlety, dexterity, patience, caution and some understanding of the other side.



Stand back and ask how realistic it is to expect a country that has acquired nuclear weapons to give them up altogether. North Korea has learned that nuclear weapons bring the mighty US president to negotiate on equal terms with a minnow, the poorest and weakest of countries. Look what happened to Muammar Gaddafi when he bartered away his nuclear capability.


Countries that turn nuclear illegally – Pakistan, Israel – gain power and status. Is Kim really willing to give that up absolutely? Will Trump accept anything less? The answer to both questions looks like a no.


Meanwhile, overnight, the first direct result of Trump’s sabotage of the Iran nuclear deal landed with an entirely predicable thud. The 20 Iranian missiles fired into the occupied Golan Heights received a heavy Israeli retaliation on Iranian bases in Syria.