Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Axios on your phone

Get breaking news and scoops on the go with the Axios app.

Download for free.

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Sarah Grillo / Axios

President Trump may find himself in a difficult position as soon as he sits down with Kim Jong-un, according to Jim Walsh, who has been in the room for previous talks and says North Korea’s first pitch is often a curveball.

“I’ve been in settings [in which they] set it at the top of the meeting, ‘we’re not going to talk about denuclearization,’" Walsh told Axios. "People on the other side say ‘why the hell are we meeting?’”

Walsh, an international security expert at MIT, says that while negotiators from Iran, for example, tend to talk in circles before reaching their main point, “North Koreans will often lay down a hard line right at the top.”

“I’ve sat in the room with people who were meeting North Koreans for the first time. They’re not used to the North Korean style,” he says.

Setting the stage

Trump is certainly not used to the North Korean style, and a former government official who has negotiated with North Korea says beginning talks at the top level adds a host of challenges:

"This is extremely unusual for the president to be his own special envoy. He's not going to have the time or the inclination to do what the special envoy" would do to set the stage for talks.

The official said even before Trump, negotiations with North Koreans had been driven by the personalities in the room. Now, they’ll be dependent on two big personalities, in Trump and Kim.

What it’s like in the room

Walsh says in his experience, conversations with the North Koreans are nothing like the bombastic statements that come out of North Korean state media.

  • “The conversation is quite normal, especially if the people already know each other,” he says. While the talks can sometimes be frustrating for both sides, “as any conversation between countries with bad relations might be,” the tone “is not tense or hot or cold.”
  • Walsh says the North Koreans “generally do not confer with each other before responding, nor are there regular long pauses.”
  • “The people doing these are generally pros and understand that there are constraints, especially on the North Korean side.”
The Trump factor

These talks, assuming they go ahead, will be unlike any that came before them — and skipping the lower echelons makes things less predictable:

  • Trump and Kim Jong-un will likely speak in broad strokes, without a lot of detailed conditions, the former official said.
  • Trump doesn’t have a full roster of experts on his side, given key vacancies, and has been known to make snap decisions when it comes to foreign policy.
  • Normally, North Korean officials have to stick to strict instructions set out before negotiations. “Officials down the food chain have to be very careful about what they say because they could get shot," Walsh says. Kim, however, doesn’t have a congress or an adversarial press to answer to, or elections to worry about.
"If he flips, everything flips, that’s a little bit of wild card."
— Jim Walsh

What to expect

  • It’s not in [the North Koreans'] interest for the summit to crash and burn. I don’t think they’re going to show up just to shut it down,” Walsh says.
  • But if things do turn sour, he says, “that very much increases the likelihood that the two countries will find themselves on a fast track to some sort of military conflict.”

Go deeper: North Korea is a black hole for U.S. intel and how past talks have failed.

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Sports

Olympics dashboard

Katie Ledecky in Tokyo. Photo: Ding Xu/Xinhua via Getty Images

🚨: Simone Biles won't compete in individual vault or uneven bars

🏊‍♀️: Katie Ledecky wins gold in women's 800m freestyle

🏊: Caeleb Dressel breaks world record in men's 100m butterfly, 3rd gold

🇬🇧: Britain wins gold in first-ever Olympic mixed 4x100m medley relay

🎾: Novak Djokovic defeated in Olympic semi-finals

💻: Japan tests teleporting games and "remote cheering"

Go deeper: Full Axios coverage

Updated 4 hours ago - Sports

Simone Biles won't compete in individual vault or uneven bars Olympic finals

Photo: Loic Venance/AFP via Getty Images

Simone Biles will not compete in the individual vault or uneven bars finals at the Tokyo Olympics, USA Gymnastics announced Friday.

Why it matters: USA Gymnastics said Biles, who previously withdrew from the individual all-around and team finals to prioritize her mental health, will continue to be evaluated to determine if she'll compete in the balance beam or floor exercise events.

4 hours ago - Sports

American Katie Ledecky wins Olympic gold in women's 800m freestyle

USA's Katie Ledecky reacts after taking gold in the final of the women's 800m freestyle race. Photo: Odd Anderson/AFP via Getty Images

American superstar swimmer Katie Ledecky grabbed her second gold medal of this year's Olympic Games, winning the women's 800-meter freestyle race Saturday in Tokyo.

Driving the news: Ledecky, who holds the world record in the 800m freestyle, is considered one of the best women swimmers of all time. Saturday's final marks her third straight Olympic gold in the event.