Bromance between Trump and Kim losing steam

Posted on : 2020-01-13 17:42 KST Modified on : 2020-01-13 17:42 KST
Trump’s birthday letter to Kim Jong-un gets frosty response
US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un meet at Panmunjom on June 30, 2019. (Reuters)
US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un meet at Panmunjom on June 30, 2019. (Reuters)

US President Donald Trump got a frosty response to the letter he sent to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un congratulating him on his birthday. Since the two leaders first began engaging in dialogue in early 2018, they have kept the momentum for dialogue going at crucial moments through the exchange of personal letters -- but this kind of “top-down” diplomacy symbolized by their correspondence is not showing the same kind of power anymore.

On Jan. 11, Kim Kye-gwan, an advisor for the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, disclosed that Kim had received Trump’s letter and declared that North Korea would “never lose our time again, being taken in by the US trick as in the past.”

This was viewed by the US press as exposing the limits of the “bromance” between Trump and Kim Jong-un and the fundamental gulf between the two sides on the issue of denuclearization. CNN said the statement from Kim Kye-gwan “appeared to throw cold water on any chance of a letter Trump sent Kim on his birthday had of reopening the door to diplomacy.”

A New York Times article with a Seoul dateline read “Happy Birthday, Trump Tells Kim. Not Enough, North Korea Says,” with a subheading stating that “a senior aide [Kim Kye-gwan] said the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, had ‘good personal feelings’ about President Trump, but that did not affect policy.”

Trump’s decision to directly and indirectly share a birthday message with Kim Jong-un through separate channels and Blue House National Security Office Director Chung Eui-yong shows that the US leader does not want his “good relationship” with Kim to end and hopes to maintain the current diplomatic approach with Pyongyang. At the same time, there is little likelihood of the Trump administration softening its denuclearization demands and substantially lifting sanctions -- meaning that the stalemate between the two sides is very likely to persist. With the presidential election coming up in November, observers in and around the US administration are predicting that Trump will focus his energies now on maintaining the status quo in relations with North Korea. This suggests that Trump’s decision to send a letter to Kim was intended as a way of “managing” the current situation.

By Hwang Joon-bum, Washington correspondent

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