Weekly Letter to the President
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INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
April 20, 2018 (posted April 29, 2018)
Mr. President: This piece is unusual in that it is either going to end up as a fiasco or
a scoop. If the latter, then, as they say ... remember you read it here first.
The possible venues floated by the White House include places like Sweden and
Switzerland. But we all know Mr. Kim Jong-un has a chronic phobia of flying, so
places not easily accessible by his personal train are out of the question. Train travel
to these two European nations would take both unduly long and include journeying
through countries not particularly friendly to the PDRK.
Then there is Southeast Asia, principally Thailand and Vietnam though Singapore
has also been suggested. Thailand is at present under a military dictatorship, and
Mr. Kim might like to go there just to prove a point -- countries in the western orbit can
be dictatorships too. There is another issue: Does Mr. Trump mind if he appears to
be endorsing a dictatorship?
Vietnam is interesting as another divided country that eventually unified. It has also
enjoyed strong growth under a capitalistic economic regime while retaining its
communist political system -- probably what Mr. Kim might be aiming for in North
Korea. Travel, however, requires his train winding its way south to a country with not
the best relations with China -- Mr. Kim's principal support.
Singapore is a successful, dynamic city state steeped in the capitalist model. A
democratically elected government notwithstanding, officials can be autocratic. It has
also had diplomatic relations with North Korea since the 1970s. But there is one big
problem. To travel by train from North Korea Mr. Kim would have to go through
Malaysia ... the place where his agents killed the playboy brother.
Mongolia has also been suggested. It is an old friend to North Korea and provided
some assistance during the Korean war. Would that mean though that Mr. Trump is
going too close to the Kim home base and appearing a supplicant as he would were
he meeting in Pyongyang or Beijing or even Moscow.
So, what's left?
Well, Kazakhstan has a lot going for it. In the first place, it has extremely good
relations with South Korea, while its government by contrast has its roots in the Soviet
system. Effusive congratulatory messages from its Foreign Minister were in order
recently just prior to the North-South Korean summit. Nursultan Nazarbayev, the
president, invited by Trump for a state visit in January 2018, volunteered his country's
help as a role model for North Korea -- Kazakhhstan, having disposed of its own
nuclear weapons after leaving the Soviet Union, has become an advocate for a
The Kazakhs will do everything to please their South Korean friends. Kazakhstan
benefits from trade and South Korean investment. It is its largest trading partner in
Central Asia after Uzbekistan.
By an odd quirk of fate, the Soviet Union deported thousands of resident Koreans to
Central Asia. Korea was under Japanese colonial rule at the time, and the Soviets
feared there would be spies among them. They call themselves Koryo-saram ---
Koryo being a word for Korea and saram meaning people -- and are estimated to
number about 100,000. They are also a link drawing the two countries together.
Given Kim Jong-un's penchant for secrecy, it is not surprising there is no mention of
Kazakhstan. He would want it that way. The train journey is straight across China
where Kim feels safe. And Kazakhstan's relative neutrality means Trump is not giving
much away in meeting there ... he will not appear to be a suppliant.
There is one other very big reason why Kazakhstan is the likely venue. John Mappin
is said to thinks so, and is probably betting on it. Who is John Mappin? He is the man
who was sure as early as 2015 that Donald Trump would win the election. His $3,000
bet spread among different bookmakers earned him almost $110,000.
Who would want to bet against this guy?