The stunning announcement that Donald Trump will personally meet with Kim Jong Un to discuss North Korea denuclearization divided opinion Friday, delighting world leaders and vexing diplomats and experts.
Thursday’s bombshell news caught everyone by surprise, especially as it follows the yearlong taunting session between “Little Rocket Man” and the White House “dotard.”
The meeting is to take place at an unspecified location before the end of May, a timeline described as “incredible” by one expert.
Yet governments around the world, including China, Russia, and Japan, welcomed the move, with South Korea’s Moon Jae In calling the meeting a “miraculous opportunity.”
North Korea watchers were a little more anxious, worried that Trump’s decision to meet Kim face-to-face would serve to validate the tyrant as a leader with global reach.
What the experts say:
Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia nonproliferation program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said that no matter what happens Kim is not going to give up his nuclear arsenal — so what can the U.S. hope to gain?
Lewis added that a personal meeting with a U.S. president had been a policy goal for Pyongyang for 20 years, mirroring the ending of a North Korean movie called “The Country I Saw.”
Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for New American Security, called the move a “gamble” and that Kim would likely use the optics of such a high-profile meeting to his advantage while maintaining his missile and nuclear weapons programs.
Tommy Vietor, a former national security spokesperson for Barack Obama, wondered why the White House was trumpeting a sit-down with "a homicidal dictator" at all:
Robert Kelly, an expert in inter-Korean affairs, has said he hasn't seen much in the way of praise among his peers for the announcement, suggesting Trump has overreached in an attempt to claim a "win."
Andray Abrahamian, a visiting fellow at the Pacific Forum, also believes that denuclearization is not going to on the table when Trump meets Kim. "Despite today’s very dramatic news, it’s still difficult to imagine them denuclearizing, certainly in the short term," he told NK News.
Former U.S. Ambassador Norm Eisen was more skeptical, claiming Trump "got played," while General Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and NSA, was equally unimpressed.
Jon Wolfsthal, a special assistant to Obama on arms control and non-proliferation, called the May deadline for talks “almost incredible” but told the Guardian, “the US must pursue this idea. Scepticism is healthy but the chance for progress is too good to pass up.”
What North Korea said:
In an email to the Washington Post, North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, Pak Song Il, said the invitation was the result of Kim’s “broad minded and resolute decision” to contribute to the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula.
He added that thanks to the “great courageous decision of our Supreme Leader, we can take the new aspect to secure the peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula and the East Asia region.”
What the Republicans said:
A letter signed by six Republican Senators urged Trump “to continue to vigorously implement the maximum pressure campaign” against Kim’s regime. It warned that “when it comes to the North Korean regime, we must verify before we trust… we must also never forget that the DPRK continues to represent a grave threat to the United States, our allies, and global peace and stability.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham added a personal warning for Kim, saying: “The worst possible thing you can do is meet with President Trump in person and try to play him. If you do that, it will be the end of you — and your regime.”
However not all Republicans feel the same way, with a GOP foreign policy official told Axios that "Trump's ego may lead him to believe that he can succeed where no one else can because of who he is and who he has out-negotiated in the past. There is such a desperate desire for a magic solution to this otherwise insoluble problem that people lose touch with reality."
Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe said Friday: “I highly appreciate North Korea's change that it will begin talks on the premise of denuclearization," adding that he planned to visit Trump himself “as early as April.”
China also welcomed the news, with foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang saying: “We hope that all parties can demonstrate political courage and make the right political decisions.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was more reserved in his assessment, calling it “a step in the right direction,” adding that he hopes “this meeting is going to take place… as it is required to normalize the situation around the Korean peninsula.”
South Korea’s president Moon Jae In saved his praise for the White House: “The leadership of President Trump, who gladly accepted Chairman Kim's invitation, will receive praise not only from people in the South and the North, but also from people around the world.”
Cover image: Donald Trump delivers remarks before signing the 'Section 232 Proclamations' on steel and aluminum imports in Roosevelt Room the the White House March 8, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)