In a report that shocks no one, White House aides are worried about President Trump's relationship with North Korea as the summit in Singapore approaches at the end of May. Following a series of moves by North Korean negotiators that commenters described as par for the course, Trump is worried he waded into the peninsula peace process too quickly, according to The New York Times.
But what led Trump to this point? On May 16, a representative for North Korea said the United States must stop demanding that North Korea "unilaterally" cease its nuclear weapons program. Kim Gye Gwan, North Korean vice foreign minister and former nuclear negotiator, said if the White House comes to the summit "with sincerity" for peace and improved relationships that "it will receive a deserved response from us," as The Washington Post reported.
“However, if the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-U.S. summit,” he said. (DPRK is an abbreviation for Democratic People's Republic of Korea.)
Reports from multiple outlets, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, called this a typical tactic by North Korea. This led President Trump, as The Times reported, to pester his aides "with questions about the wisdom of proceeding."
Yoon Young-chan, a senior spokesman for Moon, told CNN that last week's dueling statements were a "growing pain in the process."
On Saturday, the newspaper continued, Trump called South Korean President Moon Jae-in to ask why their neighbor's recent statement contradicted private statements. Moon is expected to arrive in Washington, D.C., by Tuesday.
Moon, who was elected last year, has already met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The meeting between the two leaders in later April was a historic moment: It was the first time leaders of both countries had met in more than 10 years, according to CNN. "The two leaders declare before our people of 80 million and the entire world there will be no more war on the Korean peninsula and a new age of peace has begun," a joint statement read, as reported by Reuters.
Despite the lead time and behind-the-scenes work, some are concerned that Trump does not grasp details and facts of the relationships and agreements that will come into question in Singapore, according to The New York Times, before adding that this is not the case for the Kim.
The New York Times reported that both Moon and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Kim grasps nuances and details of the nuclear program and potential plans for nuclear disarmament. Unnamed aides also told the newspaper that Trump "has resisted" briefings rife with details about nuclear weapons and programs that his predecessors have not.
John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser and former ambassador to the United Nations for President George W. Bush, has been contacting counterpart "near daily" in South Korea to set strategy,according to The New York Times. (Bolton's name may be familiar as the administration official who has made headlines for advocating for the "Libya model" of nuclear disarmament before the White House seemed to denounced his statements.)
Bringing peace and potential nuclear cessation to the Korean peninsula is a massive task and having seasoned negotiators at the table is key. As The Washington Post reports that's not the case here. "It’s true there’s more coordination that needs to be done that hasn’t been done,” one senior U.S. official told the newspaper. “There’s still time, but not a lot of it.”