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The Peninsula

Initial Thoughts on the Trump-Kim Summit

Published June 12, 2018
Author: Kyle Ferrier
Category: North Korea

After watching the first summit meeting between President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un, KEI staff members Troy Stangarone, Kyle Ferrier, and Jenna Gibson share some of the things that stood out to them.

The three analysts participated in a Facebook live video during the start of the summit, sharing their thoughts as the event unfolded in Singapore. You can watch the full discussion here.

Troy Stangarone:

  • What made the meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un stunning wasn’t the symbolic setting of crossing the DMZ that set the tone for the inter-Korean summit, but the fact that a sitting president of the United States was meeting with the leader of North Korea. Now that Kim Jong-un has become the man of the hour he has moved from “rocket man” to “rockstar.”
  • At the inter-Korean summit, Kim Jong-un went off script when South Korean President Moon Jae-in asked when he could visit North Korea. With the summit kicking off with a private meeting between Trump and Kim, one wonders if Kim Jong-un surprised Trump with an offer as well.
  • Now that the process has started, one of the key things to success will be whether the new process only focuses on North Korea’s nuclear program or whether it tries to build a sustainable relationship by tackling cyber, chemical/biological, and the other issues that could undermine any progress made.

Kyle Ferrier:

  • The opening of the summit clearly was more about optics and pleasantries than anything else. That there was not even a reference to any substantive issues highlights how this meeting is foremost about building a rapport between the two leaders.
  • Trump’s broad statements about working with Kim Jong-un seem to support his earlier statements that this is going to be a drawn out process with North Korea. This is the best alternative if a concrete agreement is not yet on the table, but the U.S. must use this meeting to at least move the ball forward on the nuclear issue in some way. The Kim family has always had time on their side, so the U.S. can’t wait too long for progress, particularly as diplomatic success is really contingent upon maintaining international economic pressure on Pyongyang. If the diplomatic process goes on for too long it could lead to lax sanctions enforcement due to impatient business interests.

Jenna Gibson:

  • Kim Jong Un has truly arrived on the world stage. After successful meetings with both President Moon Jae In and President Xi Jinping in which he was treated to the full summit experience, we just witnessed a leader of North Korea standing in front of alternating American and North Korean flags shaking hands with a U.S. President. No matter what comes out of the rest of this meeting, Kim Jong Un has already gotten a big chunk of what he came for – to be taken seriously as a world leader and the head of a nuclear state.
  • I wasn’t necessarily surprised by this because we saw some of this at the Inter-Korean Summits, and we know President Trump’s informal style, but I was still struck by some of the friendly body language between the two, particularly the way Trump kept patting Kim on the arm. This seemed like a very friendly and almost intimate gesture, although I wonder if Trump was purposely trying to send the signal that he’s at ease and not intimidated by Kim.
  • The fact that Trump and Kim planned to meet behind closed doors with no one else but interpreters in the room made many analysts uneasy. But at least as far as we could tell, it didn’t cause any major issues – the two emerged 40 or so minutes later still smiling. Considering that President Trump said he would walk away from the table if he didn’t think he could get somewhere with Kim, we’re off to a good start so far. What would be interesting (and we may never know the answer) is whether Trump raised some of the issues that could be embarrassing to Kim if raised in a more open meeting, including abductees and human rights. If he were going to raise those issues, it would have to be in that closed-door meeting.

Troy Stangarone is KEI’s senior director for congressional affairs and trade, Kyle Ferrier is the director of academic affairs and research, and Jenna Gibson is communications director. The views expressed are the authors’ alone.

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