“This unprecedented meeting with the U.S. president will make Kim Jong Un feel very proud, having achieved something his father and grandfather didn’t,” said Joo Seong-ha, who escaped from North Korea and now writes about the country for South Korea’s Dong-A Ilbo newspaper.
And although “maximum pressure” may have helped bring Kim to the negotiating table, the other reality is that he is coming to the summit from a position of relative strength, said Kenneth Dekleva, a former State Department diplomat and psychiatrist who has profiled leaders including Slobodan Milosevic and Vladimir Putin, as well as the two most recent North Korean leaders.
“Kim is strong, confident and very well-prepared — including the technical details of denuclearization — for the upcoming summit. He has in effect staked his reputation on having a successful summit,” Dekleva said.
It would be “folly” to look at Kim’s relative youth and inexperience and underestimate him, he said, noting that Trump himself once memorably called Kim a “smart cookie.”
The North Korean leader is following a plan he laid out early in his tenure.
In 2013, he announced a “dual-track” policy to advance both the nuclear program and the economy, a shift from the “military first” approach of his father.
To prove his military chops, he first focused on the nuclear program, pouring his country’s meager resources into building increasingly long-range missiles and what is widely acknowledged to be a hydrogen bomb.
After a year of alarming tests, Kim announced in November that his weapons program was complete. That was the signal he was ready to turn to the economy.
And so he did.
Starting on New Year’s Day with an olive branch to South Korea, Kim has embarked on a strategy designed to portray him as the responsible leader of a nuclear-armed state — just like the leaders of the United States, China and Russia.
The goal: to boost the economy by getting rid of the international sanctions imposed as punishment for last year’s provocations, or at least getting Beijing to stop implementing them. About 90 percent of North Korea’s trade goes to or through China.
“This is his top priority,” Kim Seok-hyang, professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, said of Kim’s focus on the economy. “In 2012, Kim Jong Un promised his people that they would never be hungry again. But he has not been so successful at that so far.” [Continue reading…]