(PhatzNewsRoom / AP) — SINGAPORE — President Trump made last-minute preparations Monday for his meeting with Kim Jong Un in the shadow of his blow-up with western allies at the G-7 summit — a good sign to his backers, not so good to others.
While Trump aides said his battles with Group of 7 economic allies over trade policy show that he will fight for what he wants, others said his inability to deal with global friends bodes ill for his chances with nuclear-armed adversary Kim.
Hailing Trump’s pushback to criticism from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, White House senior economic adviser Larry Kudlow told CNN’s State of the Union that the president “is not going to let a Canadian prime minister push him around … Kim must not see American weakness.”
Trump “is not going to permit any show of weakness on the trip to negotiate with North Korea, nor should he,” Kudlow said.
Foreign policy analysts said the G-7 discord — Trump refused to endorse a group communique, saying other members use unfair trade practices against the United States — calls into question his ability to strike a good deal with anybody. While the United States and Canada fight over dairy trade, the Kim meeting concerns the fate of nuclear weapons.
“If Trump can’t negotiate a deal on milk with one of our closest allies, how is he going to get a deal on nuclear disarmament with one of our greatest foes?” tweeted Michael McFaul, ambassador to Russia during the Barack Obama presidency.
Trump, meanwhile, continued to exude confidence about his historic meeting with the North Korean dictator, tweeting at one point: “Great to be in Singapore, excitement in the air!”
A day after landing in Singapore, the former British colony that is at the crosswords of global trade and finance, Trump prepared to meet Monday with the sponsor of the Kim summit sponsor, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. The prime minister spoke Sunday with Kim.
Trump’s meeting with Kim, the first ever between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader, is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday, local time — 9 p.m. Monday in Washington, D.C.
The president is also scheduled to visit Monday with employees at the U.S. embassy in Singapore.
An air of mystery continued to surround much of the Trump-Kim summit. Reuters reported that Kim may leave Singapore at 2 p.m. Monday, just five hours after the start of the meeting with Trump. U.S. officials said that is not their understanding, and that it’s possible the leaders could meet again later on Tuesday.
Trade generated Trump’s problems at the G-7 summit this past weekend in Canada.
Canadian and European leaders pledged to retaliate against the United States — and Trump — for placing tariffs on their exports by imposing tariffs of their own taxing U.S. products. Trump accused the G-7 of unfair trade practices, and singled out Trudeau in particular in a tweet for being allegedly “very dishonest & weak.”
In a morning tweet Monday from Singapore, Trump defended his position by saying “Fair Trade is now to be called Fool Trade if it is not Reciprocal.”
In another tweet, Trump asked why he should “allow countries to continue to make Massive Trade Surpluses, as they have for decades, while our Farmers, Workers & Taxpayers have such a big and unfair price to pay?”
The issue at the Singapore summit: North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
Trump is offering to lift economic sanctions on North Korea if it agrees to a complete and verifiable elimination of its nuclear weapons program. The American president has expressed confidence that Kim will take him up on this “one-shot opportunity” to help improve North Korea’s standard of living.
In the past, Kim has refused to give up nuclear weapons, calling them essential to his country’s survival.
Some analysts said Trump’s problems at the G-7 could put pressure on him to deliver on Singapore, perhaps to Kim’s benefit.
“The G-7 blowup increases the chance that Trump makes concessions so that the Kim summit looks like a success,” said Daniel W. Drezner, a professor of international politics with the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
“Otherwise,” Drezner said, “he’ll be 0-for-2 on this trip.”
Seeking to tamp down expectations, Trump has described the summit as more of a get-to-know-you type of session, and the start of a process leading to ultimate denuclearization.
While there is a good chance that Trump and Kim will “establish a process of staged disarmament,” that effort “will take years,” said Joseph Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation.
“It depends at least as much in what the U.S. does as what North Korea promises,” he said. “Remember, this is going to be a deal where both sides give something, both sides compromise.”
MONTREAL — Before he was elected Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau faced a consistent type of criticism from his opponents: he was too young and too eager to please, conservatives said. His economic plans added up to “unicorns and rainbows.” He did not have the gravitas to represent Canada internationally.
But President Trump has helped bring together the most bitter of Canadian enemies, as he lashed out at Trudeau following the Group of Seven meeting in Quebec, and even the country’s most staunch conservatives have publicly backed up their Liberal prime minister for taking a tough tone in the U.S.-Canada trade conflict.
“I think sometimes, you know, you have to tell the schoolyard bully that they can’t have your lunch money. And I think that’s what the prime minister did today,” said Jaime Watt, a Toronto-based conservative political strategist. “I think most Canadians would say that they were proud of their prime minister.”
James Smith, a spokesman for the federal New Democratic Party, which is left of center, echoed those on the right. “All Canadians stand united against these inflammatory attacks on our government officials,” he said. “Mr. Trump has made a career out of using bully tactics, and we all know there’s only one way to stop a bully.”
But that sense of solidarity extends further than Trudeau’s approach this weekend, said Watt and other Canadian political insiders from across the ideological spectrum.
Whatever the prime minister’s other actions on the world stage, dealing with Trump is a unique dilemma, they said, and they have not been bothered by Trudeau’s decision to stick to civility until now.
“I can’t fault Trudeau for how he’s handled Trump or tried to handle it,” said Andrew MacDougall, who acted as communications director for former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Trudeau’s critics still love to complain about his cutesy idiosyncrasies: wearing flashy socks, being seen shirtless in public, or photobombing regular Canadians. That is beside the point, said MacDougall.
“Yeah, the socks, the selfies, whatever,” he said. “That’s kind of fun to moan about — it’s not serious. But this is a very serious issue, our economic relationship with the United Stat . . . Who knows what to do with Trump? Nobody knows what to do with him. His own people don’t know what to do.”
Canadians agree this weekend was a turning point, and maybe an overall historic low, in Canada-U.S. relations. The two countries’ trade conflict has been ratcheting up for weeks, but twice recently — before and after the G7 meeting — Trudeau repeated a certain comment, saying Canada was “polite” but “will not be pushed around.”
Trump took the second such comment, made in a news conference after the Quebec meeting, badly. In a tweet, he depicted Trudeau as two-faced, saying the prime minister had been “meek and mild” during the meetings, only to lash out afterwards. “Very dishonest & weak,” he tweeted.
Perhaps some of the falling-out boils down to a misunderstanding of Canadian etiquette, said Bruce Heyman, the former U.S. ambassador to Canada — “especially for somebody who’s coming from the world that [Trump] is coming from, and has been so blunt and so confrontational in his conversations and approaches.”
Canadians, Heyman said, “are collaborators who try to find paths to solutions.” It could be easy for someone to misread them, “not taking them seriously or not understanding the resolve they have.”
In the bigger picture, Trump’s provocations are gauged to elicit a reaction, others said — and Trudeau’s response, far from off-the-cuff snarkiness, is also carefully planned.
“You know, I think this is a case of ‘kick the dog,’ ” said Fen Hampson, a political scientist at Carleton University in Ottawa.
“My reading is that Trump is, you know, trying to negotiate with the Koreans and dealing with much bigger players, the Chinese and the Europeans, on trade issues. I think he’s trying to make an example of Canada. Canada’s a small, super-friendly ally . . . and I think he’s just kind of sending a message to the rest of the world: ‘If we can treat the Canadian this way, you ain’t seen nothing yet in terms of what might be coming your way.’ ”
Hampson, whose most recent book is about former prime minister Brian Mulroney’s diplomacy, including his work striking North American trade deals, said Mulroney has continued to be a behind-the-scenes adviser to Trudeau’s government, as he has personal connections with some Trump insiders.
Trudeau has two good reasons to change his tone now, Hampson said: First, the NAFTA talks are unlikely to be resolved any time soon. Second, the next federal Canadian election is next year.
“I think he and his government feel under some pressure to talk tough and to do so publicly.”
Public opinion has been fairly supportive of Trudeau all along, including his mild approach to Trump, said Nik Nanos, a leading Canadian pollster.
“I’m not sure if it’s been niceness,” he said. “It’s been more cordial — cordial and businesslike.”
When it comes to their international image, Trudeau has been generally keeping with what Canadians demand, Nanos said.
“I think that Canadians do pride themselves on an international image where we’re seen as being cordial, friendly and even-handed in terms of trying to get along with other states,” he said.
“The reality is that even under the best of circumstances, Canada is a middle power and, you know, when you’re a middle power, you have to get along with larger powers. You’re not necessarily going to get along with larger powers by aggressively attacking them.”
But Canadians have also supported tougher stances in the past, when there’s a principled reason for taking them, Nanos said — for example, when Harper bluntly berated at Russian President Vladimir Putin over the Ukrainian invasion.
Harper himself took to Fox News this weekend to criticize Trump’s actions at the G-7. Another high-profile Canadian conservative also tweeted support of Trudeau: Doug Ford, the brother of late Toronto mayor Rob Ford and who this week was elected leader of the province of Ontario. “We will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Prime Minister and the people of Canada,” Ford wrote.