For at least two decades, leaders in North Korea have been seeking a personal meeting with an American president… and after a hotpot, cold noodles, and several bottles of wine, it appears that meeting is about to happen.
North Korea’s Kim Jong Un joked about his image in international media while serving South Korean officials local spirits and cold noodles during their unprecedented visit to Pyongyang this week, two South Korean government sources told Reuters.
Kim made light-hearted remarks about how he is viewed outside North Korea in international media and elsewhere, one Blue House official said. The officials who spoke asked to remain unnamed due to the sensitivity of the issue.
The North Korean leader was “very aware” of his image, the official said, and reacted to comments made about him in a “relaxed” manner by joking about himself from time to time.
Reuters added that Kim told the visiting delegation Moon could rest easy at night now that Pyongyang had decided not to carry out nuclear or missile tests while talks were ongoing, a Blue House official said.
“President Moon has had a rough time chairing national security meetings at the break of dawn whenever we fired missiles,” Kim was cited as saying during a dinner meeting with the visiting South Koreans.
“If working-level talks ever cease and hostility appears, (President Moon) and I can easily resolve it with a phone call,” Kim referring to the hotline the two Koreas are planning to install to connect Kim and Moon. It will be the first such hotline to be set up between the heads of the two Koreas.
When the South Korean officials visited, Reuters notes that no hard feelings were displayed and Kim Jong Un was the first to tackle sensitive topics, including the resumption of a military exercise between South Korea and the United States that was postponed for a peaceful Winter Olympics, the Blue House official said.
The delegation was served North Korean hotpot the first day and cold noodles – another regional specialty – the next, the Blue House official said.
Kim and the officials shared several bottles of wine, liquor made of ginseng and Pyongyang soju, the official said.
“The bottles kept coming,” said another administrative source who had official knowledge of the meeting.
And at the end of all that, South Korean officials say Trump and Kim now plan to meet by the end of May, in what would be the first ever meeting between a sitting U.S. President and a North Korean leader.
However, as a summit unexpectedly appears possible, and a diplomatic victory looms for President Trump ahead of the midterms, ‘some’ are raising doubts.
Reuters reports that analysts fear U.S. President Donald Trump’s understaffed administration may lack the expertise to successfully turn a political spectacle long sought by Pyongyang into a meaningful opportunity to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.
“A Trump meeting with Kim presents both risks and opportunities,” said Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
“The U.S. side needs to be very, very well prepared and know exactly what it wants to achieve, as well as what the U.S. is willing to provide in return.”
Several experienced career diplomats occupy key positions in the Trump administration’s Korea and East Asia offices, but, as Reuters points out, many of them are in an acting capacity while other positions are entirely empty.
Suzanne DiMaggio, a senior fellow at the New America think tank, who has engaged North Korean officials at unofficial discussions, said on Twitter:
“It will have to be managed carefully with a great deal of prep work.”
“Otherwise, it runs the risk of being more spectacle than substance.
Right now, Kim Jong Un is setting the agenda and the pace, and the Trump administration is reacting. The administration needs to move quickly to change this dynamic.“
“A summit is a reward to North Korea,” said Robert Kelly, a professor at South Korea’s Pusan National University.
“It extends the prestige of meeting the head of state of the world’s strongest power and leading democracy. That is why we should not do it unless we get a meaningful concession from North Korea. That is why other presidents have not done it.”
Finally, Reuters points out the inevitable truth that if the summit fails, the cost could be higher than in the past, as observers have noted, with North Korea firmly in possession of a nuclear arsenal and Trump having said military strikes may be needed to remove those weapons; a diplomatic failure would leave few (and uglier) options on the table.