On Tuesday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in told reporters in Washington that “the future of the Korean peninsula hinged on” President Donald Trump agreeing to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
Moon congratulated Trump for bringing the world “one step closer to the dream of achieving complete denuclearization on the Korean peninsula and world peace.” He promised to “spare no efforts to the end to support this success of the upcoming U.S.-North Korea summit, and stand with you all along the way Mr. President.”
Trump responded by asserting that denuclearization “must take place” and if the June 12 summit with Kim is postponed, “maybe it’ll happen later.” Less than two days later, Trump canceled the summit.
The scene Thursday is not an unfamiliar one to observers of this White House. Just a month ago, another world leader came knocking on the White House’s door with an agenda opposite Trump’s consistently expressed opinions. Like Moon, Trump regaled him with compliments and hospitality and listened intently to his argument that yet another rogue regime deserved a chance.
First on the Iran nuclear deal, then on South Korea, President Trump is proving to observers that he is willing to listen to the points of view of world leaders with very little ideologically in common with him, but that he will ultimately not yield to global peer pressure when its aims contradict his interests.
Committed but not stubborn, reasonable but not gullible, the global left appears to be struggling to find a successful strategy for manipulating Trump.
Observers widely agreed this week that Moon had come to the United States to convince Trump not to cancel the scheduled historic summit with Kim Jong-un, to occur on June 12 in Singapore. The leftist Moon, who became president after the much more popular conservative Park Geun-hye was impeached and removed in a bizarre cult scandal, has made conciliatory gestures toward North Korea his flagship international policy. Moon had met Kim Jong-un himself on April 27 on both of their turfs: the border town of Panmunjom, where they each made a symbolic hop across the border to visit each other’s countries. Moon wasted no time upon taking office in courting Pyongyang, and his biggest reward to date was a request from Kim that South Korea relay an invitation to Trump for a personal meeting.
Trump accepted – contingent upon North Korea behaving like a respectable country.
In the week leading up to Moon’s visit Tuesday, Kim and his communist regime had gone out of their way to violate this seemingly simple request: insulting some of Trump’s closest confidants in state media, charging outrageous “visa fees” to American journalists to allow them to observe a symbolic “destruction” of a nuclear site that had likely been accidentally destroyed, and falsely telling its citizens the planned summits were intended to congratulate North Korea on becoming a world power.
Having released its remaining American hostages, Pyongyang appeared to have lost patience with the United States. Kim’s meeting with Moon, the aforementioned hostage release, and a temporary halt in state media articles promising to turn all of the continental United States into ash had not been enough to get Trump to lift the crippling, unprecedented sanctions Kim was facing on his economy. No American government before had requested more than the bare minimum, clearly causing some frustration.
Pyongyang wasn’t alone. South Korea’s government was frustrated on Thursday, too. Moon told reporters he was “perplexed” and chided the White House, saying that “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of permanent peace are historic tasks that can neither be abandoned nor delayed.” Moon spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told reporters his government was “trying to figure out what President Trump’s intention is and the exact meaning of it.”
Months of work by Moon’s government, contingent upon his ability to personally persuade Trump, had been rendered obsolete in the seconds it took for Trump’s letter canceling the summit to make global headlines.
Moon did not learn from Macron’s trip – stunning as even Macron himself told reporters he believed he had failed before Trump announced his Iran deal decision – nor will he likely be the last world leader to make a similar attempt to personally convince Trump to act against America’s interests. Yet whoever is next to visit Trump with a plea to change his mind will have little room to claim he or she was not warned.