South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday offered to hold three-way talks with President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.
“A North Korea-U.S. summit would be a historic event in itself following an inter-Korean summit,” Moon said, according to Reuters. “Depending on the location, it could be even more dramatic. And depending on progress, it may lead to a three-way summit between the South, North and the United States,” he said.
If Moon is concerned about what could come of President Trump and Kim being in a room alone, he’s not the only one. Ever since Trump accepted Kim’s offer to meet and discuss the easing of tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, much as been written — across the political spectrum — about the president’s preparedness and competency in entering such high-level sensitive talks.
For instance, the conservative National Review magazine figured Trump would be an “easy mark” for North Korea, noting that “the president is not given to extensive preparation or attention to detail.” Several experts told Vox that while diplomatic talks were a positive development, they weren’t sure that President Trump could just “wing this;” they worried that the state and defense departments had been “in the dark” and that his administration is “ill-equipped.”
Even the more conservative experts — Bruce Klingner from the Heritage Foundation and Doug Bandow, from the Cato Institute, said that Trump needed to move quickly to fill key advisory positions — including the still-vacant ambassadorial post in Seoul. Bandow told Vox that, “Trump knows little, resists being briefed, and is subject to manipulation, so he is not one to manage alone a complex conversation so fraught with risk.”
Think tanks, such as Brookings are also fretting that President Trump needs to seriously prepare for the meeting and have an A-team of advisers around him. But Brookings couldn’t imagine who these advisers would be, given that National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster is reported to be on his way out, and Rex Tillerson was fired from his post as Secretary of State and is to be replaced by Mike Pompeo, who, it seems, never met a diplomatic crisis he didn’t like to resolve with a bomb.
And if McMaster is really on his way out, his rumored replacement, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, could not be less interested in a diplomatic solution with North Korea.
So given all of that, it’s perhaps not surprising that Moon is worried about what could happen during the sensitive and certainly historic talks.
After all, South Korea has been working hard to deescalate tensions on the peninsula. Kim and Trump have been on a trajectory that seemed to be heading in one direction: war.
President Trump started a campaign of name-calling on Twitter (which Kim did not leave unanswered), threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea while speaking at the U.N. General Assembly in September and did not engage in any kind of diplomatic overture during the recent Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me “old,” when I would NEVER call him “short and fat?” Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 12, 2017
South Korea, meanwhile, has seized every opportunity to avoid conflict with its neighbor. A re-opened a phone line — a diplomatic hotline of sorts, which had been shut down for almost two years — led to a 20-minute conversation between the two countries, which ultimately resulted in North Korea’s participation in the South Korean Olympics.
This opened the door even further, and the two met in Pyongyang in early March and agreed to hold a summit next month — the first of its kind in 11 years. Seoul wants the neighboring states to hold high level talks to discuss the details of the summit on March 29.
Trump, who had demanded that Moon give him credit for diplomatic progress, surprised some in the international community and, The Washington Post reported, “stunned” many in his own administration when he accepted the North Korean invitation to meet with Kim by May.
The South Koreans, it seems, are leaving little to chance at this point.
In fact, it was South Korean National Security Adivsor Chung Eui-yong, who told reporters in the U.S. about Trump’s agreement to meet Kim. The Post described the situation as “an extraordinary scene — a foreign official, unaccompanied by U.S. leaders, briefing the press at the White House about the American president’s plans.”