Trump managed to do what no other US president has ever achieve, in getting North Korea’s president Kim Jong Un to sit down and negotiate the country’s denuclearization. And now comes the hard part: paying for Kim Jong Un’s hotel in Singapore, the location of the historic June 12 summit.
Because while US event planners are working day and night with their North Korean counterparts to set up a summit designed to bring an end to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program at an island resort off the coast of Singapore, a rather “awkward” logistical issue has emerged: who’s going to pay for Kim Jong Un’s hotel stay?
As the Washington Post reports, the “prideful but cash-poor pariah state” has demanded that a foreign country foot the bill at its preferred lodging: the Fullerton, “a magnificent neoclassical hotel near the mouth of the Singapore River, where just one presidential suite costs more than $6,000 per night.”
While it’s not just the bill…
The mundane but diplomatically fraught billing issue is just one of numerous logistical concerns being hammered out between two teams led by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin and Kim’s de facto chief of staff, Kim Chang Son, as they strive toward a June 12 meeting.
… who pays the room and board has emerged as the biggest point of contention ahead of the June 12 summit.
In other words, North Korean dictators beggars can be choosers, and the one who is set to quietly foot the North Korean’s hotel bill is none other than the real estate mogul himself: Donald Trump.
But it may not be so simple, as potential diplomatic complications have emerged associated with paying for Kim’s hotel room, and as the WaPo adds when it comes to paying for lodging at North Korea’s preferred five-star luxury hotel, the United States is open to covering the costs, but it’s mindful that Pyongyang may view a U.S. payment as insulting.
So, in order to avoid offending the rotund dictator, U.S. organizers are considering asking Singapore, the host country, to pay for the North Korean delegation’s bill.
“It is an ironic and telling deviation from North Korea’s insistence on being treated on an ‘equal footing,’ ” said Scott Snyder, a Korea expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“These norms were laid in the early 2000s, when Seoul’s so-called sunshine policy took off,” said Sung-Yoon Lee, an expert on Korea at Tufts University, referring to a policy of rapprochement associated with former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung. “North Korea can build nukes and ICBMs, but claim they are too poor to pay for foreign travel costs.”
This is not the first time the poor communist nation has made bold monetary demands: In 2014, when then-U. S. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. visited North Korea to retrieve two prisoners, his North Korean hosts served him an “elaborate 12-course Korean meal,” the veteran intelligence official said, but then insisted that he pay for it.
Meanwhile, if the US ends up paying the bill it will only add to Trump’s already long list of questionably fund flows as any payment for North Korean’s accommodations would run afoul of Treasury Department sanctions, accoridng to Elizabeth Rosenberg, a former Treasury official. The transaction would require the Office of Foreign Assets Control to “temporarily suspend the applicability of sanctions” through a waiver, she told the WaPo.
“There are legitimate mechanisms built in for exemptions depending on the circumstance, but this could run into public and political criticism and send the wrong message to North Korea,” said Duyeon Kim, a visiting fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum, a nonpartisan think tank in Seoul.
In the worst case, there is always reimbursement by bitcoin: after all this is precisely the contingency for which the cryptocurrency was created.
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But wait, there’s more. It turns out that figuring out how to pay Pyongyang’s hotel tab could be just the beginning in dealing with the poor country’s logistical problems. Another problem is that the country’s outdated and underused Soviet-era aircraft could require a landing in China because of concerns it won’t make the 3,000-mile trip, “a visit that would probably require a plausible cover story to avoid embarrassment.”
As for Trump’s own plans, he is expected to stay at the Shangri-La, a 747-room hotel that is accustomed to high-security events, and which hosts the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, a security conference that attracts dozens of ministers of defense and state.
Finally, there is the question of what will actually be said at the summit itself.
What we do know, is that the two sides have settled on the venue for the June 12 meeting: the Capella hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, is situated off Singapore’s southeast coast; it boasts a mix of colonial-style buildings and curvy modern edifices.
What is less known is what will actually take place at said summit: White House and State Department officials repeatedly declined to comment on the advance team planning, keeping those discussions more opaque than the substance of the negotiations.
Rexon Ryu, a former White House official who dealt with the North Korea nuclear issue, said the North Korean side in particular has an interest in keeping those discussions quiet.
“These talks go to the question of security, and if anything, that’s probably most immediately paramount to Kim,” he said. “I think for many folks on the North Korean side, this is more important than the content of the negotiations.”
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PS: it was inevitable.