Rocket Men Meet

Germany skeptical about the US-North Korea deal

Gipfeltreffen in Singapur
Summit, schmummit. Source: DPA

“Great, excellent, terrific” was how President Donald Trump described his summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

But a picture making the rounds on social media of German Chancellor Angela Merkel dressed up as Mr. Kim (see below) sums up how many in Germany feel about the meeting. “Strategic move: Angela Merkel announces new look, hopes to be taken more seriously by president Trump,” tweeted German comedian Shahak Shapira.

Friedrich Merz, chairman of the Atlantik-Brücke, a non-profit association to promote German-American understanding, echoed the sentiment in an interview with the news site DLF, saying he was annoyed by how warmly Mr. Trump greeted the North Korean leader, considering how Europe has struggled to negotiate with the president.

German and European leaders are bruised and confused after Mr. Trump tweeted the US withdrawal from a shared communique at the close of the G7 summit. The president and EU officials had wrangled intensively over crucial trade and defense issues, among others before signing the communique.

Many European leaders are critical of the historic meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim, and their agreements to cancel military exercises and move toward demilitarization. Guy Verhofstadt, a European parliamentarian from Belgium, tweeted his doubts about “legitimizing a dictator with a non-binding deal” that he called a “recycled version of a former agreement in 1990.” He noted that Mr. Trump had “single-handedly killed” the Paris agreement, the Iran deal and recently the G7.

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Let's talk. Source: Twitter/Shahak Shapira

Others suggested Mr. Trump had been outmanoeuvred. A member of the Christian Democrats, Norbert Röttgen, who is also chairman of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said Trump’s meeting with Kim gave the North Korean leader recognition he had not earned. In an interview with the Funke media group, Mr. Röttgen said it was highly unlikely that Mr. Kim was considering abandoning his nuclear weapons and that Trump’s hunger for personal prestige had steered the US into a position of weakness.

Lawmakers from across the political spectrum agreed. Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, deputy floor leader for the pro-business Free Democrats, called the deal an “undisguised check.” He said it was vague and left many questions unanswered. “We’ll see whether this is the foundation for the denuclearization of North Korea,” he noted.

The Greens were even more frank. Parliamentary group head Anton Hofreiter said Mr. Trump’s statements had the “half-life of a tweet,” adding that the West could not rely on Mr. Kim and called both leaders “volatile.”

Although most analysts doubt the prospects for denuclearization, Volker Stanzel, a former German ambassador and fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, called the meeting a success in terms of the two leaders’ domestic agendas but not in terms of North Korea’s nuclear disarmament.

Mr. Trump wants to show the Republican party and his voters that he is dealing fast and efficiently with global problems, according to Mr. Stanzel. “The handshake, the shoulder slaps, all in front of thousands of journalists from everywhere in the world, demonstrated that dramatically – the rest is for the bureaucrats,” he said.

There are domestic benefits for Mr. Kim as well, according to the policy expert. “He needs relief from the sanctions and achieved that merely by agreeing to the summit,” Mr. Stanzel said. Mr. Kim also needs to get along better with South Korea, mainly for economic reasons. As the South Korean president has tied his political fate to detente with the North, Mr. Kim can count on South Korea helping North Korea along with investments and trade.

Mr. Kim would also like to take a step toward removing American troops from South Korea, according to Mr. Stanzel. Trump’s willingness to stop the Korean-American military maneuvers indicates progress on that front.

One of Germany’s biggest concerns is the danger of an armed conflict in northeast Asia and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.“Maybe the meeting has achieved something in terms of mutual confidence-building, and now the nuclear experts can take it from here,” Mr. Stanzel said.

The European Union likewise looked further down the line to where the day’s events could lead. “This summit was a crucial and necessary step to build upon the positive developments achieved in inter-Korean relations and on the peninsula so far,” said Federica Mogherini, the bloc’s chief diplomat, in a statement. She greeted the possibility of the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula.

Allison Williams is deputy editor of Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: williams@handelsblatt.com

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