SINGAPORE — President Trump made last-minute preparations Monday for his meeting with Kim Jong Un in the shadow of his blow-up with western allies at the G-7 summit — a good sign to his backers, not so good to others.
While Trump aides said his battles with Group of 7 economic allies over trade policy show that he will fight for what he wants, others said his inability to deal with global friends bodes ill for his chances with nuclear-armed adversary Kim.
Hailing Trump’s pushback to criticism from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, White House senior economic adviser Larry Kudlow told CNN’s State of the Union that the president “is not going to let a Canadian prime minister push him around … Kim must not see American weakness.”
Trump “is not going to permit any show of weakness on the trip to negotiate with North Korea, nor should he,” Kudlow said.
Foreign policy analysts said the G-7 discord — Trump refused to endorse a group communique, saying other members use unfair trade practices against the United States — calls into question his ability to strike a good deal with anybody. While the United States and Canada fight over dairy trade, the Kim meeting concerns the fate of nuclear weapons.
“If Trump can’t negotiate a deal on milk with one of our closest allies, how is he going to get a deal on nuclear disarmament with one of our greatest foes?” tweeted Michael McFaul, ambassador to Russia during the Barack Obama presidency.
Trump, meanwhile, continued to exude confidence about his historic meeting with the North Korean dictator, tweeting at one point: “Great to be in Singapore, excitement in the air!”
A day after landing in Singapore, the former British colony that is at the crosswords of global trade and finance, Trump prepared to meet Monday with the sponsor of the Kim summit sponsor, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. The prime minister spoke Sunday with Kim.
Trump’s meeting with Kim, the first ever between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader, is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday, local time — 9 p.m. Monday in Washington, D.C.
The president is also scheduled to visit Monday with employees of the U.S. embassy in Singapore.
An air of mystery continued to surround much of the Trump-Kim summit. Reuters reported that Kim may leave Singapore at 2 p.m. Monday, just five hours after the start of the meeting with Trump. U.S. officials said that is not their understanding, and that it’s possible the leaders could meet again later on Tuesday.
Trade generated Trump’s problems at the G-7 summit this past weekend in Canada.
Canadian and European leaders pledged to retaliate against the United States — and Trump — for placing tariffs on their exports by imposing tariffs of their own taxing U.S. products. Trump accused the G-7 of unfair trade practices, and singled out Trudeau in particular in a tweet for being allegedly “very dishonest & weak.”
In a morning tweet Monday from Singapore, Trump defended his position by saying “Fair Trade is now to be called Fool Trade if it is not Reciprocal.”
In another tweet, Trump asked why he should “allow countries to continue to make Massive Trade Surpluses, as they have for decades, while our Farmers, Workers & Taxpayers have such a big and unfair price to pay?”
The issue at the Singapore summit: North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
Trump is offering to lift economic sanctions on North Korea if it agrees to a complete and verifiable elimination of its nuclear weapons program. The American president has expressed confidence that Kim will take him up on this “one-shot opportunity” to help improve North Korea’s standard of living.
In the past, Kim has refused to give up nuclear weapons, calling them essential to his country’s survival.
Some analysts said Trump’s problems at the G-7 could put pressure on him to deliver on Singapore, perhaps to Kim’s benefit.
“The G-7 blowup increases the chance that Trump makes concessions so that the Kim summit looks like a success,” said Daniel W. Drezner, a professor of international politics with the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
“Otherwise,” Drezner said, “he’ll be 0-for-2 on this trip.”
Seeking to tamp down expectations, Trump has described the summit as more of a get-to-know-you type of session, and the start of a process leading to ultimate denuclearization.
While there is a good chance that Trump and Kim will “establish a process of staged disarmament,” that effort “will take years,” said Joseph Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation.
“It depends at least as much in what the U.S. does as what North Korea promises,” he said. “Remember, this is going to be a deal where both sides give something, both sides compromise.”
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