Maybe Trump perfected the art of the deal for North Korea

Maybe Trump perfected the art of the deal for North Korea
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The same sales and negotiating techniques that made Donald TrumpDonald TrumpRomney: 'Pretty sure' Trump would win 2024 GOP nomination if he ran for president Pence huddles with senior members of Republican Study Committee Trump says 'no doubt' Tiger Woods will be back after accident MORE rich and then got him elected president have been on full display in the run-up to his scheduled Singapore meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump is approaching North Korea like a real estate project, which, in a sense, it is. ​In this case, it’s about redevelopment. Think of North Korea as a violent, impoverished inner city surrounded by the more affluent suburbs of South Korea, China and even Russia. Basically, what Trump has in mind is a deal to gentrify Northeast Asia’s worst “slum” with the whole world watching as he turns statesmanship into real estatesmanship.

Keep in mind how Trump earned the $3.1 billion net worth that moved him into the top spot (replacing George Washington, with estimated total worth of $525 million) among America’s wealthiest presidents. Like Washington, Trump made his money in real estate. In Trump’s case, make that New York City commercial real estate — maybe the toughest place in the world to succeed in business.


With North Korea, Trump is thinking bigger than most of his critics can see and using tactics few can recognize. The deal he’s working on is unfolding in three phases.

In phase one, Trump agreed to, then abruptly cancelled, a meeting with Kim:

“I was very much looking forward to being there with you,” Trump wrote to Kim on May 24 to cancel the summit. “[But] sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility [you] displayed ... I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting.”

In sales that’s known as “the take away,” a tactic designed to tempt the buyer to make a deal by letting him know how it feels when the deal is suddenly off the table.  

But wait. There’s more.  

Later in the letter, Trump softens his tone and zeros in on Kim’s sweet spot:

“The world, and North Korea in particular, has lost a great opportunity for lasting peace and great prosperity and wealth.”

The key word here is “wealth.”  

Trump is moving in on a piece of Chinese-client real estate currently in the hands of a family-run dictatorship that’s chronically strapped for cash. And he’s said to be coming with an economic plan to catch China off guard.

Instead of caving to North Korean demands, as weaker presidents have done, Trump is operating from a position of strength, first by calling off the meeting and then by explaining to Kim (whom he once dubbed “Little Rocket Man”) the difference between bombast and a bomb blast.

You talk about nuclear capabilities ... Ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used,” he wrote.

Next, in a classic piece of selling, Trump lets Kim know — despite the threat of total annihilation — that they can still be friends: “If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write.”

Within two days, Kim was sounding as if the June 12 meeting was on again. Only now that decision was Trump’s to make.

In phase two, Trump uncancelled the talks, then played good cop to allay one of Kim’s major concerns, promising to keep his bad-cop national security adviser John Bolton under control. It was Bolton’s remark about a “Libya option” for North Korean denuclearization that set Kim off in the first place.

After giving up his nuclear weapons program, Libyan tyrant Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and gruesomely killed in 2011. Survival is a Kim family tradition.

True, Kim’s nukes still could be a deal-breaker. Which is why Trump will keep him focused on the goodies that come with agreeing to, and cooperating with, a plan for denuclearization.

In phase three, Trump moves in to close the deal.

In addition to the two principals, the June 12 get-together will involve several interested parties.

North Korea’s location between Russia, China, South Korea and, by extension, Japan, puts it in the middle of a “new Silk Road.” If Trump eventually succeeds in transforming the Hermit Kingdom from a chokepoint into a channel for commerce, the opportunities will be as limitless as they are historic.  

Trump’s team is busy putting together an option package for Kim in return for de-nuking. One possibility that has “Trump” written all over it is a massive improvement project for North Korea that would benefit all concerned — a modern freight railway system for moving manufactured goods from Japan and South Korea through North Korea and across Russia to lucrative markets in Western Europe.

And what’s in it for China? Beijing is naturally opposed to any effort that upgrades North Korea’s current slave-state status, but the Chinese would also see the economic opportunities in an improved North Korea.   

The question is not how can this be happening, but why recent presidents never did things on the same level. The answer should be obvious. “Executive experience” for most of them has meant campaigning for votes and showing up at fundraisers. For Trump, it has meant devising and weathering ruthless competition with business rivals as greedy and cutthroat as anyone he’s likely to meet at a summit conference.  

This is Trump’s chance to bring the various parties together with the most effective sales technique to close any deal, a “win-win” outcome for everyone — North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia, Japan and the United States.  

Needless to say, that would be “big league,” but Trump has shown he’s not into small ball. As he once put it: I like thinking big. I always have. To me, it’s very simple: if you’re going to be thinking anyway, you might as well think big.”

On his last trip the North Korea, former basketball star Dennis Rodman presented Kim with a gift copy of Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal.” Maybe he should read it?  

Bill Thomas is an author in Washington and former editor with The Economist Group, a leading source of analysis on international business and world affairs.

Jerry Cave is president of Cave Communications, a digital marketing company in New Orleans.