Always ready to brag about his skills as a negotiator but misinformed, as usual, President Trump is already taking credit for the expected release of three Americans who have been held in a North Korean prison work camp for months, even before their freedom is confirmed.
In a tweet today, Trump blamed “the past Administration,” meaning President Obama, for not being able to get the three men released.
As everybody is aware, the past Administration has long been asking for three hostages to be released from a North Korean Labor camp, but to no avail. Stay tuned!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2018
The problem with Trump’s boast, however, is that two of the three detainees were actually picked up by the North Koreans and placed in custody not only since Trump took office, as CNN correspondent Jim Sciutto tweeted today – but apparently because of him.
Mr. President, two of the hostages were taken since you took office. https://t.co/9LzVpLSVQn
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) May 3, 2018
The three Americans held by North Korea are Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Kim Sang Duk (aka Tony Kim).
Kim Dong Chui was arrested in 2015 and was charged by North Korea with being a spy for South Korea, so he, in fact, was taken into custody while President Obama was in office, although the White House seemed to have little to do with it; rather, it was a sign of continuing antagonism between North and South Korea.
Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song, both of whom worked at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (the only private university in North Korea) were arrested in April and May of 2017, after Trump became president, and were accused to “hostile acts” against the Kim regime.
CNN notes in its report that the two arrests in the Spring of 2017 came “as tensions between Washington and Pyongyang were beginning to ramp up.”
In other words, the arrests were Kim Jong-un sending a message to Trump, that apparently he did not get since he was unaware this week of when they were actually arrested and how long they have been in custody.
The way that the news of the pending release became public was also irregular and apparently angered some people within the Trump White House.
The president’s recently hired lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, the former Mayor of New York City – who is not a U.S. government employee and has no official security clearance – on the cable TV show Fox & Friends this morning said the release would happen within a day.
“We got Kim Jong-un impressed enough to be releasing three prisoners today,” Giuliani told the trio of “Fox & Friends” hosts.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said today that there was no official statement yet about the possible release, which apparently has not been confirmed by the U.S. State Department and was news to the detainee’s families.
Sanders declined to explain why Giuliani made the announcement instead of the White House -as did the National Security Council – and why it was made on a cable news show.
“Some members of the administration were frustrated as reports of the American detainees’ release seemed to get ahead of official US pronouncements — fueled partly by the President’s own lawyer,” reports CNN.
“‘This isn’t how we should be doing this,'” sighed one US official after Giuliani’s appearance on Fox,” adds CNN in its report. “The official said the administration had hoped any announcement about the Americans’ release would come from the President himself.”
Trump and his administration are happy to take credit for the release of the trio, and readily attribute it to the on-going negotiations for a summit between Trump and Kim Jong-un, which is expected to happen this month or next month.
It is more fitting to credit South Korean President Moon Jae-in for his role, or at least give him a share of the praise, since it was his actions that have brought North Korea to agree to the summit and his recent meeting with Kim Jong-un that lowered the long-standing tension between the two Koreas.
In particular, the release of Kim Dong Chul, who was accused of being a South Korean spy, is a huge sign of the change in relations between the two neighbors, who have long been hostile antagonists.
Trump, like Giuliani, has never been one to give anyone else credit for the good things that happen, so Moon is unlikely to get a share of the spotlight for the release of the trio if it happens as expected.
Trump, meanwhile, is busy worrying about where to hold the summit, rather than working to ensure the basis for the negotiations is in place.
It was revealed recently that North Korea’s nuclear tests have caused a disaster, with the mountain under which hydrogen bombs have been exploded, collapsing into itself, possibly creating an opening for radioactivity to leak out not only across North Korea but into China as well.
So it may be that behind the scenes the Chinese, whose scientists have discovered this dangerous situation, is pushing North Korea to shut down its nuclear ambitions, which Kim Jong-un can use as an excuse to deal with Trump – making them both look like winners.
If it makes the world a more peaceful place we all win but the truth is that whatever occurs the North Korean dictator and the American authoritarian president are both going to continue for the foreseeable future doing things that could well precipitate the next global crisis.