The same mainstream media that spent almost a year attacking President Donald Trump for his tough stance toward North Korea was agog this week when Trump announced he was open to a personal meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
They shouldn’t have been surprised.
In an interview almost 20 years ago, Trump outlined the situation in a way that was eerily prescient for the latest developments today.
Even Friday’s statement from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders that put stringent conditions on a potential Trump-Kim meeting haven’t changed the arc of the conflict that Trump outlined long before anyone seriously thought he would be in the Oval Office someday.
During the 1999 sit-down with “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert, then-private citizen Trump laid down how he would approach a conflict with North Korea, and the past year has borne him out.
“First, I negotiate. I would negotiate like crazy. And I’d make sure that we tried to get the best deal possible,” Trump told Russert.
Now, strictly speaking, the Trump administration hasn’t engaged in a whole lot of negotiations with the Kim regime, but it’s fair to say that the Bush and Obama administrations that preceded him did their share of trying to reason with Pyongyang. And the North Koreans haven’t been exactly peaceful since Trump took office.
Check out the Trump-Russert inverview here:
The preceding adminsitrations talks haven’t borne fruit, obviously. Which brings us to where we are now.
“Now, if that negotiation doesn’t work, you better solve the problem now than solve it later, Tim,” Trump told Russert during that 1999 interview. “And you know it. And every politician knows it. And nobody wants to talk about it.”
Well, no one can accuse Trump of not talking about what it would mean to “solve the problem” in military terms. It was in August when Trump set the chattering class on its ear with his talk of unleashing “fire and fury” on North Korea.
“They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen,” Trump said.
That had liberals on Capitol Hill and the mainstream media in an uproar of course – with some blaming the crisis on Trump, rather than the communist, totalitarian regime in North Korea, and its current leader.
But there was a final part of Trump’s interview with Russert that appears to be coming about as the North Koreans seem open to face-to-face talks.
An adversary who knows you’re serious will be more amenable to constructive negotiations than one who thinks the other side is weak, Trump said. And that’s how a serious conflict can be avoided.
“I deal with lots of people,” Trump said. “If they think you’re serious, they’ll negotiate, and it’ll never come to that.”
How serious is Trump? On Friday, Sanders told reporters at the White House that the United States needs to see concrete action from the Kim regime before planning for a summit can go ahead.
“They have made some major promises. They have made promises to denuclearize. They have made promises to stop nuclear and missile testing,” Sanders said, according to CNN.
“We’re not going to have this meeting take place until we see concrete actions that match the words and the rhetoric of North Korea.”
Predictably, the mainstream media are treating this as backpedaling. Politico’s headline summed up the mood: “Trump’s bold stroke on North Korea dissolves into confusion.”
But nothing Trump has said in the White House indicated he thought the North Korean situation would be easy. And nothing in that 1999 interview made it sound easy either.
The point is, Trump has been harder on the Kim regime than any U.S. president in recent memory, and the process has a real chance of bearing fruit for the first time since then-President Bill Clinton got conned in the so-called Agreed Framework in 1994.
However the latest twist in the North Korean story works out, Trump’s interview with Russert is bearing out.
Let’s hope the North Koreans have the sense to seize the opportunity, so it ends as reasonably as Trump predicted back then.
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