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Photo: South Korean Presidential Blue House via Getty Images

Shortly after Trump announced he was canceling the summit with Kim Jong-un — and before Trump publicly signaled the summit might still happen after all — I received a prescient email from John Park, the director of the Korea Working Group at the Harvard Kennedy School.

The big picture: Park is impeccably connected in South Korea and his email is worth reproducing in full: "[South Korean President Moon Jae-in] has initiated a very bold game plan and has assumed a lot of the risk for Kim and Trump to have their summit and produce a joint declaration.  Moon needs this particular outcome to move forward with implementation of the Panmunjom Declaration — i.e. have more control over fate of the Korean Peninsula."

  • "Trump and Kim both benefit from a summit as well.  There will be more bumps along the way — 'on-again, off-again' drama — but Moon has done a lot of the heavy lifting in addressing the big deal-breaker items."
  • "A win for Moon is facilitating the launch of a 'denuclearization mechanism,' because it creates a political opening for forward movement on the other mechanisms — permanent peace mechanism and inter-Korean transportation infrastructure development mechanism — in the Panmunjom Declaration."
  • "Behind the scenes, Moon and his team have been acting like first responders to help both Trump and Kim get to Singapore.  They’ll continue to patch things up between the two leaders when egos are bruised.  (When the U.S. needs to be reassured on a particular issue, Moon Blue House discreetly coordinates with Kim regime to produce a statement or action that goes a long way in reassuring)."
  • "Bottom line: the Singapore summit is not a guaranteed event.  However, the chances of the summit happening are much higher than the political risk marketplace’s consensus view because of the Moon Blue House’s discreet activist role."

The latest, per WaPo's Anna Fifield, reporting from Seoul: "A team of U.S. officials crossed into North Korea on Sunday for talks to prepare for a summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un, as both sides press ahead with arrangements despite the question marks hanging over the meeting..."

  • "Sung Kim, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea and former nuclear negotiator with the North, has been called in from his posting as envoy to the Philippines to lead the preparations, according to a person familiar with the arrangements."

Go deeper

43 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Congress hunts for shortcut to pass defense funding, debt limit combo

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer returned to his office Monday. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The scramble in Congress to pass the National Defense Authorization Act is being complicated by an effort to tie it to a needed hike in the federal debt limit.

Why it matters: The House and Senate are rapidly coming up against a series of deadlines they must address before the end of the year — or risk disrupting crucial military funding and upending the economy. Congressional leaders are now hoping they can knock out both "must-pass" priorities in one, complex swoop.

Scoop: Inside Jake Sullivan's call with U.S. hostages' families

Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

National security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke last week with relatives of U.S. hostages and others wrongfully detained abroad, after more than two dozen families expressed frustrations about their inability to get a meeting with him or President Biden, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Participants on the video call, which began at 7pm ET Friday and lasted more than an hour, told Axios they didn't get satisfactory answers to many of their questions. Nonetheless, they were encouraged by Sullivan's commitment to follow up and pledge to be personally available to them and others going forward.

2 hours ago - World

Biden huddles with European allies on Ukraine ahead of Putin call

Putin in the Kremlin. Photo: Grigory Sysoyev/Sputnik via Getty

President Biden will seek to convince Russia's Vladimir Putin in a phone call Tuesday that the price of invading Ukraine would be steeper than anything he's faced in the past.

Driving the news: Biden held a call on Ukraine this evening with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the U.K., while Secretary of State Tony Blinken called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to offer America's "unwavering support."