Like so much of President Trump’s diplomacy, It all started with a tweet.
Just 32 hours after Trump invited Kim Jong Un, in a seemingly random tweet, to meet him in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that straddles North and South Korea, the two leaders shook hands and Trump took the unprecedented step of walking into North Korea.
Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in the secretive kingdom, and hailed it as “a great honor.”
“I actually stepped into North Korea and they say it’s a very historic moment,” Trump said later, addressing U.S. troops at Osan Air Base. Then he claimed that “many people, I noticed, from Korea were literally in tears.”
After stepping back into South Korea, Trump then invited Kim to the White House, and Kim reciprocated by inviting the U.S. president to visit Pyongyang “at the right time.”
Trump took the opportunity in an effort to reignite stalled denuclearization talks, but sources within the administration now say the White House could be willing to tacitly accept North Korea as a nuclear power just to show some sign of movement on the issue.
What just happened?
Trump traveled to South Korea Saturday, having spent a few days at the G20 meeting in Osaka, where he joked with Vladimir Putin about getting rid of journalists, cozied up to Saudi’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, and told Chinese President Xi Jinping that he would not be imposing more tariffs on Chinese imports.
Early on Saturday morning local time, Trump issued an invitation to Kim to meet him during his planned tour of the DMZ.
Pyongyang initially responded by calling the invite “interesting” and a meeting was hastily arranged. Accompanied by South Korean President Moon Jae-In, Trump met U.S. troops stationed at the DMZ before meeting Kim at a spot marking the border between the two countries.
“It is good to see you again,” Kim said to Trump. “I never expected to meet you in this place.”
Kim then invited Trump to cross into North Korea, and the U.S. president obliged, taking a couple of dozen steps north of the border.
After that the pair spent an hour in private talks. The discussion reportedly steered clear of controversial topics like sanctions relief or denuclearization, and focused instead on friendship and expressions of mutual admiration.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing
It was a baptism of fire for Stephanie Grisham, who was appointed White House press secretary just last week and was on her first official trip with the president.
While her boss and Kim were telling each other how great they were, Grisham was caught up in “an all-out brawl” outside the meeting between North Korea security personnel and U.S. media.
In a video released Sunday, Grisham can be seen being dragged out of shot by one of the guards, and is heard shouting “let go of me” and “I need help here.”
A source told CNN that Grisham was bruised a bit in the scuffle, but she was later seen by Trump’s side at the DMZ.
Why was Ivanka there?
Also by Trump’s side was his daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, who had a prominent presence throughout the president’s trip to Asia, raising questions about her role.
Not content with watching her father cross into North Korea, Ivanka, together with her husband Jared, also made a brief visit to North Korea away from the cameras, an experienced she described as “surreal.”
The first daughter was rarely far from her father’s side throughout his entire trip to Japan and South Korea. On Saturday she caused a slight diplomatic incident when she took Mike Pompeo’s place in a photo op with the South Korean delegation.
Trump later welcomed his daughter and Pompeo onto the stage when taking to U.S. troops, describing them as “beauty and the Beast.”.
Her presence at so many meetings and discussions with so many world leaders, as an unelected official, drew criticism.
“It certainly doesn't help America's standing on the world's stage as a democratic representative government because she wasn't elected by anybody and hasn't been formally appointed to any position,” former Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told CNN.
So what happens now?
For all the showmanship and made-for-TV spectacle of Trump’s visit to North Korea, very little has changed. The two countries remain stalled on the issue of denuclearization.
The U.S. special envoy to North Korea, Stephen Biegun, will once again begin working-level talks in the middle of July with a new team from North Korea.
Since Trump walked away from the negotiating table at his second summit with Kim, in Hanoi in February, relations between the two countries have deteriorated. In the months since, they’ve descended again into name-calling and increasing threats: North Korea labeled former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden an “imbecile" and accused Pompeo of “fabricating stories like a fiction writer." It also tested new short-range missile technology.
North Korea is seeking sanctions relief before taking any significant action on denuclearization, while the U.S. wants to see concrete steps taken towards ending North Korea’s nuclear program before offering any economic relief.
The New York Times reported Monday that, in a bid to move talks forward, the administration is coming around to the idea of accepting a nuclear freeze and granting some sanctions relief if North Korea agrees not to develop any more nuclear weapons.
The move would tacitly accept North Korea as a nuclear power, which has been a red line for many in the Trump administration.
Cover: President Donald Trump walks on the North Korean side of the border with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)