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The Trump–Kim summit could still happen

President Trump speaks about the cancelled summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during a bill signing ceremony in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on May 24, 2018.
President Trump speaks about the cancelled summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during a bill signing ceremony in the White House on May 24, 2018. Photo: Win McNamee via Getty Images

President Trump's cancellation of the June 12 nuclear summit with Kim Jong-un is unlikely to be the last word. Trump and Kim are engaged in a high-stakes game of chicken, with each convinced the other wants and needs the summit more. The cancellation is Trump’s response to Kim's taking denuclearization off the table. The ball is now back in Kim’s court.  

Why it matters: Both leaders still likely want this meeting to happen. For Kim, the meeting itself is the message, granting him the legitimacy his father and grandfather sought but never secured. Meanwhile, Trump has so hyped his ability to succeed where his predecessors fell short that declaring preemptive failure would be a huge embarrassment.

Kim has been operating from a position of strength. His charm offensive reduced U.S. leverage by taking the credible threat of a preventive U.S. attack off the table. The world won't countenance the U.S. using force as long as Kim is talking peace, and even less so if Trump bears responsibility for scuttling the summit.

What to watch: If the meeting happens, sanctions enforcement — which the Trump administration has effectively ratcheted up — would likely be reined in, as both Beijing and Seoul are anxious to restore economic relations with North Korea. Kim would still be able to develop his missiles and bombs, albeit without the testing required to perfect them.

The Kim family long ago perfected the art of the steal: String out talks, wring out economic concessions, walk away from any hard commitments, then repeat.

Tony Blinken is the former deputy secretary of state and the co-founder of WestExec Advisors.

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