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The price for Trump’s generosity

Posted November. 23, 2018 07:26,   

Updated November. 23, 2018 07:26

한국어

At the Oval Office on March 20 this year, U.S. President Donald Trump held up a chart with numbers written on top of photos of military hardware, including fighter jets, missiles and warships, before a group of journalists.

Muhammad bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia who was sitting next to Trump, made a forced smile from time to time with an embarrassed look on his face. Listing the prices of weapons that Saudi Arabia had agreed to purchase from the U.S., Trump said, “And what it does is it really means many, many jobs. We’re talking about over 40,000 jobs in the United States.” He also said his administration is different from that of his predecessor, Barack Obama, saying, “So we really have a great friendship, a great relationship (with Saudi Arabia).”

Called “Mr. Everything,” the 33-year-old Saudi crown prince holds great power. He had a close relationship with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, earlier on, having Trump choose Saudi Arabia as the destination of his first overseas trip in May 2017. After Trump’s visit, Muhammad took away the crown prince position from his cousin and solidified his power by locking up other princes. His rush to power led to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who was critical of the Saudi government.

“It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said Tuesday. “In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia… The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia.”

Trump did not cave in to Congress’s pressure for stern measures against Saudi Arabia. He is showing an attitude of protecting his friend no matter what others say. Although Trump is known for his caprice and unpredictability, it is surprising that he maintains consistent affection for someone he truly likes.

Where does Trump’s infinite generosity come from? Probably it is a negotiator’s calculation that he could have bigger gains by helping a friend in need. His expectation on the Saudi crown prince is clear. Of a total of 450 billion U.S. dollars that Saudi Arabia promised to invest in the U.S., contracts worth 14.5 billion dollars, just 3 percent, have been concluded. Trump wants to get all the money from the position of a benevolent supporter.

Then, what does Trump expect from North Korea, which is neither an oil-rich country nor a regional power? All his eyes and ears are now pinned on the 2020 presidential election. While all his predecessors failed to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue, he could make it one of his greatest diplomatic accomplishments. He probably expects to use North Korea as leverage against China. In addition, could he possibly regard resolving the North Korean nuclear issue as an opportunity to carry through his argument that it would no longer be necessary to keep expensive U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula?

However, Trump’s generosity would not last forever. If at least a second North Korea-U.S. summit is held, Kim Jong Un should bring a roadmap for achieving complete denuclearization within two years and respond to him with denuclearization events in sync with Trump’s political calendar. Just as everything in the world goes, there is no unconditional love in international politics.


klimt@donga.com