South Korean President Moon Jae-In Meets with Trump to Discuss Denuclearization
On Wednesday, Apr. 10, 2019, South Korean President Moon Jae-in left for Washington to meet with United States President Donald Trump. The purpose of their meeting, per South Korea’s presidential office, was “to coordinate their stance on setting up a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearization.”
The meeting between Moon and Trump is the first official interaction between the two leaders since the failure of the recent US-North Korea summit in Hanoi in February. Moon was expected to seek more flexibility regarding Washington’s position on talks with Pyongyang and offer his power and influence in order to hopefully resolve the differences between the two countries’ positions that arose during the summit.
The aforementioned summit was widely expected to come to some sort of conclusion. However, apparently Trump’s demands to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un clashed too severely with the North Korean position for sanctions relief prior to any kind of firm decision or agreement being reached.
While the Hanoi summit ultimately abruptly collapsed on the second day of talks, both sides claimed to have ended the summit on friendly terms. However, since the summit, tensions have again begun rising, a situation not helped by the discovery of North Korea’s rebuilding of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, a key rocket launch site pledged to be dismantled by Kim during talks with Moon back in September 2018.
Moon faces domestic pressure over his policy regarding North Korea as well. Since the summit ended in a failure to reach an agreement at the end of February, Moon’s approval rating has tumbled, with an Apr. 6 poll released by Gallup Korea reporting a record low of 41 percent, as opposed to his previous 83 percent approval rating reported directly after his meeting with Kim in May 2018.
Expectations for the results of the Moon-Trump meeting are mixed. David Kim, a former U.S. State Department official, opines that “Moon is more determined now than ever to persuade Trump to return to the bargaining table with North Korea... [He] has played a critical role in getting these two leaders together and I believe he could pull it off again if they can agree to a process moving forward.”
But according to an anonymous U.S. official, while Trump liked President Moon, the U.S. president did not believe that Moon was well-suited enough to mediate the relationship between Trump and Kim in order to close the gap after the collapse of the discussions in Hanoi.
Alexis Dudden, professor at the University of Connecticut who specializes in the modern history of Japan and Korea, said “It is clear that President Moon would like President Trump to return to the table with Kim Jong-un, and, better yet, he would like Trump and Kim to recapture the atmosphere and momentum on display last June in Singapore.”
However, she warned that this meeting would not go as smoothly as Moon would have hoped, noting that “President Trump has made abundantly clear that ultimately he is the only one making decisions about North Korea, and he is reliably unpredictable.”
The meeting between Moon and Trump in Washington takes place only a few hours after the start of North Korea’s 14th Supreme People’s Assembly, where observers expect North Korea’s leadership to enunciate its future plans with regards to its relations with the U.S. and give off valuable clues concerning Kim Jong-un’s future approach to denuclearization.