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November 15, 2018

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OPINION:

Who’s paying North Korea’s summit tab?

The most controversial topic surrounding Tuesday’s Trump-Kim summit is probably not denuclearization or human rights. We already can be pretty sure those two bozos can talk their way around the nuclear issue with some vague declaration that all comes down to agreeing “Nukes Are Bad, Make Peace, not War.”

As for human rights, that’s not gonna come up in the talks. The Trumpster doesn’t want to spoil the mood by upsetting the Kimster too much with a topic everyone knows will go nowhere and might ruin Kim’s appetite for pizza-with-everything before they ever get around to their say-nothing, mean-nothing final statement or “peace agreement.”

OK, in the interests of attempting to be a little funny, it would be easy to say they’ll compare hairstyles, exchange notes on hairdressers, perhaps offer each other some sage advice about the best hair dressing or shampoo treatment or some kind of scalp massage. Just kidding, just kidding!

OK, OK, now let’s get serious. We’re talking here about one of the most highly anticipated meetings between two national leaders in history. Yes, that’s right, the word “historic” is bound to come up a lot more than once in all the breathless reporting and analysis we’ll be reading before, during and after the opening and closing handshakes and hugs. Another adjective you’re sure to see more than once is “rare.” That’s the word everyone uses after going to North Korea on a tourist trip, taking happy snaps and posting them along with an article on “my rare visit to the haunted kingdom” (or maybe “hermit country”).

Getting down to the topic at hand, the overriding issue is who will be footing the bill for Kim Jong Un and all his delegation. Reports have been floating around all week that the North Koreans are saying they don’t have the money. They’re leaving the impression they might not even be able to take off from Pyongyang in that old Russian version of Air Force One that flew Kim to Dalian for his seance with Xi Jinping last month if they don’t know where the money’s coming from. The price for two or three days and nights living high in Singapore could come as quite a shock even to mere rich-list mortals accustomed to first-class expense-padding.

Actually, however, if the bill for those $5,000-a-night rooms for every member of his entourage comes to well over $500,000, including room service dinners and all the drinks on offer at the mini-bars in each room, that might not be too bad. Consider how much flying B52 and B1 and B2 bombers up from Andresen Air Base in Guam on intimidation flights along the DMZ was costing American taxpayers before Trump and Kim agreed to stop calling each other bad names and frightening everyone with threats and counter-threats.

But let us think again. If the final Singapore hotel bill comes to $200,000 or even $500,000 or $1 million, why can’t Kim pick up the tab himself? Look, this man has stashed billions in accounts in Switzerland, where he went to school. There’s nothing to stop him from dipping into his accounts, as he’s accustomed to doing to support his lifestyle in Pyongyang, and ordering up all the costs of the extravaganza in Singapore.

OK, if Kim would rather not draw from his own piggy bank for expenses in Singapore, here’s an option. He’s giving up his nuclear program, right? He’s no longer test-firing missiles, including long-range ICBMs capable of carrying miniaturized nuclear warheads to targets in Washington and New York. Surely the budget for nukes and missiles should easily cover the Singapore gambit.

Considering Kim’s got whatever it takes to maintain his dozen or so palatial estates in North Korea, the Americans are saying they’re damned if they’re paying Kim’s bills. Nor should the South Koreans, the Singapore government, or the Chinese or Russians, feel responsible for guaranteeing the quality and quantity of the food and drink needed to satisfy his voracious gourmet tastes.

Still, what would it take for all these bureaucrats to sign off on a bunch of credit cards for Kim and his party? Trump could even put such a show of generosity on the agenda at the summit. Surely coming to terms on Kim’s Singapore expenses should be a lot easier than bringing talking heads and hairstyles together on the definition of “denuclearization.”

Donald Kirk has been a columnist for the Korea Times, South China Morning Post and many other newspaper and magazines. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.