As Ed pointed out earlier, the highly anticipated second summit between President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un ended rather abruptly with no new denuclearization agreement reached. But during the press conference that followed the talks, the President was asked about Kim’s role in the death of Otto Warmbier. We don’t know when the subject was raised during their dinner or morning negotiation session, but the President’s answer has left me scratching my head. You can watch the brief video of the exchange via this tweet from CBS News.
President Trump says he has confronted Kim Jong Un about the death of American college student Otto Warmbier, who was detained in North Korea. But he doesn't believe Kim knew about what happened: "I don't believe that he would have allowed that to happen…He felt badly about it" pic.twitter.com/f4ePXAnTp8
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 28, 2019
President Trump says he has confronted Kim Jong Un about the death of American college student Otto Warmbier, who was detained in North Korea. But he doesn’t believe Kim knew about what happened: “I don’t believe that he would have allowed that to happen…He felt badly about it”
That CBS excerpt doesn’t contain the President’s full response, so watch the video to get the entire answer. Just taking it at face value, I’m willing to take Trump at his word that they discussed it, either during this trip or through some earlier correspondence. I can also see Kim saying that he “felt very badly about it” and only learned of Warmbier’s situation after the fact. But does anyone honestly believe that’s what happened?
Holding an American hostage is a very big deal with huge potential ramifications. Kim would have been on top of that situation personally. Also, we already know from far too much tragic experience that Kim and his family have shown no signs of humanity or compassion when it comes to mistreating and even regularly murdering people when it suits their needs. I would give that claim a near zero percent chance of being true.
So does the President really believe Kim when he says he didn’t know about it? Lacking an accurate mind reader we have no way of knowing. Perhaps Donald Trump simply didn’t want to take a major jab at the North Korean tyrant over this subject because he wants to maintain a working relationship with him for future negotiations. But if he really does believe that, I’m concerned that the President is being very gullible.
As to the results of the summit itself, was it a bust or a bridge to future progress? There were some easy items on the agenda that the two leaders could have made progress on if they just wanted to go home with something that looked like a win. For example, in addition to closing only one uranium refinement facility, some have suggested that Trump could have gotten Kim to let us bring the USS Pueblo home. We could have given a thumbs up to new railway construction between the two Koreas.
None of that happened and there were no agreements announced. The President has made the reason obvious. Kim wanted far too much from us while offering nothing of substance in return. North Korea wants all the sanctions dropped immediately and new trade and foreign aid arrangements put in place. Given their history of getting deals like that and then renigging on their agreements, Trump was smart to walk away. In this case, no deal was far better than a bad deal, and what Kim is offering is most definitely a bad deal.
Perhaps North Korea will come around later on. Perhaps they won’t. But Kim leaves having scored another public relations victory for getting a meeting with the President and Trump gets a longer period of time without Kim detonating any nukes or testing more missiles. I suppose that’s better than nothing, but I still refuse to trust Kim any farther than I could throw him.