Stories

South Korea's "first responder" role to save the North Korea summit

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."