What Was the Point of Moon's Dash to Washington?

      April 15, 2019 13:15

      The leaders of South Korea and the U.S. are so many miles apart on almost every area of their approach to North Korean denuclearization that it remains a mystery why they even bothered meeting last week.

      Asked if he can accept President Moon Jae-in's proposals for phased denuclearization, Trump said, "I'd have to see what the deal is. You could work out step-by-step pieces, but at this moment, we're talking about the big deal. The big deal is we have to get rid of nuclear weapons." Asked about the sanctions against North Korea, Trump reiterated that he feels the ones in place now are adequate, whereas Moon wants them lifted as soon as possible. And when it comes to another U.S.-North Korea summit, which Moon is pushing for, Trump was lukewarm. "A third summit could happen. And it's step by step. It's not a fast process; I've never said it would be. It's step by step," he said.

      Summits are usually held only once officials have ironed out the key differences so that the leaders can present a façade of sunshine and roses to the world, or else the leaders are called in to break a deadlock.

      But neither of those things happened when the two presidents met. It became clear that very little, if any, preparation had taken place, but there was no in-depth discussion between Trump and Moon either. As usual, Trump really only wanted to talk to the press, and ran so far over time that the ensuing summit lasted less than five minutes.

      Then what was the point? Cheong Wa Dae officials patted themselves on the shoulder and said the summit "eliminated various uncertainties and rekindled momentum for dialogue" with North Korea. But the one thing that was made clearer by it was how far apart the two leaders are. Of course that can be helpful too. Now everyone can see how unrealistic the Moon administration's hopes are to resume cross-border economic projects and get sanctions against North Korea lifted. Moon must now focus his time and energy on convincing Kim Jong-un that he needs to wake up and give up his pipe dreams of making North Korea a prosperous nuclear power.

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