Trump has reportedly accepted an invitation to meet Kim Jong-un:
North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has invited President Trump to meet for negotiations over its nuclear program, an audacious diplomatic overture that would bring together two strong-willed, idiosyncratic leaders who have traded threats of war.
The South Korean official, Chung Eui-yong, who conveyed the invitation told reporters that Mr. Trump had accepted it and would meet with Mr. Kim by May.
The U.S. should be willing to test North Korea’s offer to talk, but given the administration’s misguided fixation on demanding denuclearization it’s not clear what the point of Trump-Kim meeting would be. If Trump is accepting the invitation simply to repeat the same unrealistic demand, a high-profile meeting isn’t likely to achieve anything. If the two sides approach this meeting with very different expectations of what they will be negotiating, it will be much harder to make any progress. The initial comments from the White House suggest that the administration doesn’t think anything has changed:
.@POTUS greatly appreciates the nice words of the S. Korean delegation & Pres Moon. He will accept the invitation to meet w/ Kim Jong Un at a place & time to be determined. We look forward to the denuclearization of NK. In the meantime all sanctions & maximum pressure must remain
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) March 9, 2018
That raises the question: if the meeting is to be a negotiation, what is the U.S. prepared to offer North Korea? Sanctions relief? A security guarantee? Something else? All of the above? If the administration remains wedded to its maximalist position that North Korea has to give up everything first before any offer is made, any negotiation will break down almost as soon as it begins. The White House says “we look forward to the denuclearization” of North Korea as if they actually think that is going to happen. How will they react when it dawns on them that this will never happen?
The fact that this was all originally announced by a South Korean official rather than in a joint statement from the U.S. and South Korea is odd. Why didn’t the announcement first come from the White House or State Department? That suggests that the administration may just be humoring their South Korean guests, and they aren’t going to follow through on the commitment to meet. Vipin Narang commented on this tonight:
This is what gives me pause. No WH official was willing to publicly endorse the acceptance of the invitation—why? Plausible deniability later? The whole thing was and is so strange. https://t.co/G0ykPMW8IP
— Vipin Narang (@NarangVipin) March 9, 2018
There appears to be have been little or no coordination inside the administration before committing publicly to this meeting. Following the withdrawal of Cha’s nomination and Yun’s resignation, the administration has few people with the relevant experience to prepare for such a meeting if it actually takes place. A May meeting doesn’t leave much time for an understaffed administration to get ready if they are going to take this seriously. Successful negotiations usually require significant preparatory work by lower-level officials over a longer period of time before a summit of this kind takes place, and there won’t be enough time or opportunities for that in this case. Once again, the Trump administration’s disdain for diplomacy and diplomats is catching up with them.