President Donald Trump’s stunning decision to meet Kim Jong Un sets up the prospect of the most mind-boggling diplomatic summit in modern history.
Trump, a reality star turned convention busting President, has dubbed Kim “Little Rocket Man” and threatened to rain fire and fury over North Korea, raising fears of a devastating war across the world’s last Cold War frontier.
Kim, a portly 30-something whose state media recently blasted Trump as a “lunatic mean old trickster and human reject” presides over a prison state, purges his foes and has vowed to obliterate the US in a nuclear cloud.
The meeting, announced by a South Korean delegation at the White House on Thursday night, would, if it goes ahead, mark an unmatched moment of history in the 70-year standoff between the US and the isolated state.
In the short term, a meeting could defuse the spiraling tensions between the US and North Korea that have raised fears the two nations are on an accelerating slide to a clash that could kill millions on the Korean peninsula.
For decades, the Kim dynasty has used diplomatic coercion and brinkmanship twinned with offers of talks and demands for concessions to cheat their way to a nuclear arsenal and preserve a tyrannical regime in defiance of the US.
So there’s a real chance Trump could be walking into a massive trap.
Concerns about his approach will be magnified by the impulsive way he announced the breakthrough, bursting into the White House briefing room, to tell journalists to expect a major announcement.
Reflecting his craving for affirmation, the excited President told Jon Karl of ABC News, even at this early stage of the process “hopefully, you will give me credit,” offering little sign he appreciates the magnitude of the task he faces.
Top officials in the Pentagon, and even in his own White House were unaware something was afoot until Trump appeared before reporters. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who earlier cautioned that talks with Pyongyang were a distant prospect, was thousands of miles away in Africa.
Trump’s own inexperience in high stakes diplomatic negotiations increases the size of his gamble. Then again, there is no evidence that Kim has ever met another head of state.