Kevin Rudd speaks to Bloomberg TV ahead of the Trump-Kim Singapore summit


BLOOMBERG: It’s extraordinary, isn’t it? We’ve been talking about the very quick legitimization of Kim, the North Korean leader, who in just a matter of months has gone from being an isolated leader of North Korea to almost statesman-like in his conduct and in the photo opportunities. Is this a master class of diplomacy for some of these isolated international leaders?

KR: The bottom line is that there are not many isolated international leaders left, and Kim Jong Un up until now has been top of the class in isolation. The bottom line however is that this is an evolving reality and what might appear to be a diplomatic triumph today for the North Koreans and having come so far, can quickly dissipate depending on the outcome of this summit in Singapore. I believe this will be determined by how we define four letters we’re going to hear a lot about in the next forty-eight hours. CVID. Comprehensive, verifiable, irreversible, dismantling of the North Korean nuclear arsenal. And if an agreement is to be struck around those four principles, then it is going to be a key question, of how that is enforced over time. That is a massive technical challenge, quite apart from a political and foreign policy challenge, and that will determine whether Mr. Kim stays in the global “sin bin” or whether he’s brought out into the open to a more normal engagement with the rest of the international community.

BLOOMBERG: Well the problem is they haven’t even decided a definition of denuclearization, right? And we’ve heard reports that President Trump said he doesn’t really feel like he needs to prepare for this and lots of reports about how understaffed the State Department is and how little preparedness has gone into this summit. You’ve been a career diplomat. Does this concern you? The level of I guess, lack of preparedness, as we go into this potentially historic meeting?

KR: Look if you come from a professional diplomatic background, I mean, this is a completely unique set of circumstances. But let’s go back to basics here. President Donald Trump does not come from a classic diplomatic background. It is what it is. That’s who DJ Trump is. That’s how we got into this summit in the first place. He came out one afternoon in the White House, after a brief meeting with the South Korean national security advisor, and said, “Ok, it’s on.” And that was without consultation with his senior staff. So that’s how we’ve managed to secure this summit in the first place. So it is not classical diplomacy at work here. To be fair to President Trump, his unique style, which I think is along these lines: have a meeting, shake the tree as hard as you can, and see what you can get on the denuclearization front, and then make a judgement as to whether it’s acceptable or not. That’s how Trump approaches this, and it may not be in the international guidebooks of diplomacy, but I think we’ll known within twenty-four hours whether or not this is going to have a future or not. The one encouraging thing I see, against what we saw in earlier American positioning on this, is that they see this as the first stage in a longer-stage process over time. That I think reflects the strategic reality on the ground, which is you got a lot of nukes, you got a lot of missiles, and lot of different categories, a lot of nuclear scientific research facilities, and so this is going to be a complex, complex negotiation over time.

BLOOMBERG: What do we make of the comments coming through from the likes of Peter Navarro and Larry Kudlow, the economic advisor to President Trump, basically claiming that Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, he’s stirring the pot a little, making the United States look weak, leading up to these negotiations. Is that a fair statement?

KR: Well standing back from all the common thrust of who said what when to whom, there are two major countries in the world delighted by the outcome of the G7. One’s called Russia and the other one’s called China. Russia is delighted because President Trump declared prior to the summit that it would be a good thing to have Russia back in. And then as a consequence of the summit what you have is greater unity between the G6 and China against the United States on the question of the trade measures which the President has adopted on steel and aluminium, and prospectively on a range of other product areas as well. Having the West in disarray – and that’s the G6 – from a geo-economic and geostrategic point of view, is exactly where China and Russia want to see these sort of high level meetings end. They’ll be very happy about the outcome.

BLOOMBERG: Kim Jong Un, Prime Minister, I mean, he’s traveled quite a long ways to get here to Singapore. Three thousand miles from home, it’s the farthest he’s ever traveled since he took power. He’s essentially a bit of a fish out of water. How do you think that changes how he approaches these talks?

KR: That’s a fascinating question because Kim Jong Un will not have encountered a leader like Donald Trump anywhere in his life. Xi Jinping who he’s now met twice, both in China, comes straight out of a more classic diplomatic tradition, and therefore the normal formalities associated with high level meetings. Meeting President Trump is not going to be like that. I also note from a comment from President Trump overnight that “he will know within the first minute” whether a deal can be had or not. If I was Kim Jong Un reading that this morning in the translation to Korean, I’d be thinking about how I would deport myself in the first minute or so in the meeting. It’s going to be quite a high-stakes game in terms of, let’s call it the interpersonal diplomacy and chemistry in this. You mentioned his travel abroad for the first time at any length. That’s true. I think Singapore is great venue for having this meeting. On top of that, I do note however, that Kim Jong Un’s mode of transport to Singapore has been with Air China. I think the Chinese are very keen to reinforce a message, through the symbols, to the international diplomatic community and to the Americans, that Kim Jong Un is their ally, and nobody else’s. And if he’s gonna make any big strategic moves, that he’ll do so in concert, ultimately, with Beijing, and will not sell China’s strategic interests down the tube. I think that’s the message being sent here.