Donald Trump dispatched negotiators to North Korea Sunday to resurrect the summit he whimsically cancelled Friday, which could still go ahead on June 12, with South Korean President Moon Jae In acting as an intermediary at the sit-down.
With both sides happy to play games over the fate of the Korean Peninsula, it’s hard to tell if the two leaders will ever actually meet, but the signs Monday were once again positive.
Trump abruptly announced Friday the summit was off, citing a statement made by North Korea about Vice President Mike Pence — a sudden cancellation one expert described as “basically the worst thing you can do in diplomacy.”
Trump then walked back his criticism, and over the weekend indicated the summit could still take place in June in Singapore. He announced Sunday that his team was outbound to North Korea to revive the meeting.
“I truly believe North Korea has brilliant potential and will be a great economic and financial nation one day. Kim Jong Un agrees with me on this. It will happen,” Trump tweeted.
Technical and diplomatic experts have been tasked with trying to find common ground between Pyongyang and Washington, particularly on the term “denuclearization” and what is actually means. The U.S. is seeking assurances from Kim that he is willing to completely abandon his nuclear weapons program.
Experts have previously pointed out that the summit would likely collapse because the two sides have different views on what denuclearization means. For Kim, the denuclearization issue is less about getting rid of his nuclear weapons, and more about the removal of the U.S. threat in the region.
“I remain convinced that he does not want to denuclearize, in fact he will not denuclearize,” Sen. Marco Rubio said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” while dismissing Kim’s recent demonstrations of goodwill — the release of American prisoners and the destruction of a nuclear test site — as meaningless.
“It’s all a show,” Rubio said. “It’s a show.”
South Korean President Moon Jae In, who has worked tirelessly to improve relations with North Korea, attempted Saturday to get the summit back on track by holding a surprise meeting with Kim on the northern side of the demilitarized zone which divides North and South Korea.
South Korean officials said Monday Moon could attend the Trump-Kim meeting, though negotiations are ongoing.
“We are still waiting to see how they come out, but depending on their outcome, the president could join [Trump and Kim] in Singapore,” a government official told news agency Yonhap.
Yonhap also reported that high-ranking Pyongyang official Kim Chang Son, the de facto chief of staff to the North Korean leader, was on his way to Singapore — via Beijing — to meet with White House officials, led by Joe Hagin, a deputy White House chief of staff, to discuss logistics for the summit.
The White House revealed last week that its officials had traveled to Singapore two weeks ago but their North Korean counterparts never showed up, raising red flags within the West Wing.
While the summit may be back on for now, the timeline for completing negotiations and organizing the security and logistics for such a high-profile meeting are incredibly short by diplomatic norms and there is no guarantee that everything will be in place for the June 12 deadline.
Cover image: Donald Trump listens during a meeting with Joshua Holt, members of Holt's family and the congressional delegation of Utah at the U.S. at The White House on May 26, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Chris Kleponis - Pool/Getty Images)