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Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. Photo: Vincenzo Lombardo / Getty Images

President Trump has thrust himself into a precarious diplomatic situation by unexpectedly agreeing to meet in the coming weeks with Kim Jong-un.

The big questions: North Korea put a lot on the table, according to South Korean officials — denuclearization, a testing freeze and acceptance of U.S.-South Korea military drills. The U.S. hasn't even made its opening bid. So what does Trump choose to believe from Kim, and what's he willing to offer to make a deal?

Issues to navigate
  • The optics: If the U.S. does come to the negotiating table, it might show North Korea the U.S. sees it as an equal, even if that's not the intent. That's one big, tacit concession to the Kim regime — North Korea has long-wanted to be seen as a major player on the world stage.
  • The details: Virtually no trust exists between these countries, and no conversations have yet taken place about nuclear site inspection, for example. Disagreements over site inspection have doomed previous talks.
  • Diplomatic telephone: Trump got his information on Thursday night second hand, from the South Koreans. The more channels a message goes through, the more opportunities it has to stray from the truth.
  • Follow the leader: Suzanne DiMaggio, who has been leading unofficial conversation between the U.S. and North Korea, tweets, "Right now, [Kim Jong-un] is setting the agenda & the pace, & the Trump admin is reacting. The admin needs to move quickly to change this dynamic."
  • Staffing issues: The Special Representative for North Korea is leaving his post, the U.S. lacks a permanent ambassador to Seoul, the assistant secretary for East Asia hasn’t yet been confirmed and a Special Envoy role used during previous talks is vacant.

The bottom line: There is no playbook for talks like these, and anyone who says they know exactly what North Korea is up to is lying.

Go deeper

President Joe Biden vows to be "a president for all Americans"

Moments after taking the oath of office, President Joe Biden sought to soothe a nation riven by political divisions and a global pandemic, while warning that "we have far to go" to heal the country and defeat a "virus that silently stalks the the country."

Why it matters: From the same steps that a pro-Trump mob launched an assault on Congress two weeks earlier, the new president paid deference to the endurance of American political institutions.

Updated 51 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Inauguration Day dashboard

U.S. Capitol and stage are lit at sunrise ahead of the inauguration of Joe Biden. Photo: Patrick Semansky - Pool/Getty Images

President Biden has delivered his inaugural address at the Capitol, calling for an end to the politics as total war but warning that "we have far to go" to heal the country.

What's next: Biden and Vice President Harris review readiness of military troops, a long-standing tradition to signify the peaceful transfer of power.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: The Biden and Harris inauguration

Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were inaugurated as president and vice president respectively in a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday morning.

Why it matters: Top Democrats and Republicans gathered for the peaceful transfer of power only two weeks after an unprecedented siege on the building by Trump supporters to disrupt certification of Biden's victory. Trump did not attend Wednesday's ceremony.