North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un allegedly reappeared in public yesterday — at the ribbon cutting of a fertilizer plant — after being MIA for 20 days following rumors of him being “gravely ill” after heart surgery.
Trump confusing said Monday evening, “I do know how he’s doing, relatively speaking,” and “I hope he’s fine,” before stating, “I can’t tell you, [but] yes, I do have a very good idea… I just wish him well. You’ll probably be hearing in the not too distant future.”
Two years ago, Trump said of himself and Kim, “The relationship is very good. He likes me. I like him. Some people say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t like him.’ I said, ‘Why shouldn’t I like him?’ I like him. We get along great. We’ll see what happens.” His comments made sense considering his admiration for strongman leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte.
But Trump was far terser and much less chummy about Kim this last Friday though. When asked about Kim’s health shortly before the North Korean leader’s reappearance, Trump said, “I’d rather not comment on it yet. We’ll have something to say about it at the appropriate time.” It was a rather short reply for a guy who has boasted about re-kindling warm relations between the U.S. and the Stalinist dictatorship.
Trump could just be choosing his words carefully now because Margaret Croy, an expert on East Asian nuclear proliferation, has said North Korea’s fertilizer plants could actually help the country create nuclear materials by extracting uranium from phosphoric acids.
If so, then Trump’s newfound silence about Kim may underscore Trump’s failure to achieve his Sept. 27, 2017 goal of North Korea’s “complete denuclearization.”
Quick history recap: After nearly two years of saber-rattling — with Trump tightening sanctions and cutting off humanitarian aid while Kim tested missiles towards Japan, South Korea and Russia — Trump met with Kim in a June 2018 Singapore summit. There, Trump declared Kim “an honorable partner,” despite Kim murdering his own half-brother, his own uncle, American student Otto Warmbier and using secret camps to work, torture, and starve political dissenters and their families.
Thinking the U.S. could get more with honey than vinegar, Trump furthered his historic ambitions with Kim in late June 2019 by meeting him North Korea — a U.S. presidential first. By then, Trump said he wasn’t in a rush to rid the country of its nukes; he later tweeted that it was no longer a threat, though he didn’t say why.
Despite their agreements to restart nuke negotiations, nothing has materialized since.
Even though Trump and Kim “fell in love” after meeting, bringing the two closer than any U.S. and North Korean leader ever have been, and even though North Korea hasn’t launched a missile or conducted a nuclear test since fall of 2017, Trump knows he hasn’t de-neutralized Kim as a regional threat. In fact, as recently as a year ago, Kim was busy rebuilding a long-range rocket test site.
Now, as Kim’s first public appearance in two weeks hints at his continuing nuclear ambitions, it highlights Trump’s failure to secure a North Korean peace declaration or nuclear ban — something no American president has been able to do — effectively undermining his persona as a dealmaker and showing just how little he has actually achieved with his new friend.