'The carnival ride': Trump's renewed fixation on a June 12 summit date sends officials scrambling
In this May 24, 2018, file photo, people watch a TV screen showing file footage of President Trump, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Seoul Railway Station in South Korea. (Ahn Young-Joon/AP) May 29 at 9:24 PM Email the author
On Tuesday, news broke that a top North Korean official was headed to New York for an urgent meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had locked in a hastily arranged visit to the White House next week. Teams of U.S. negotiators, meanwhile, were already on the ground in the Korean demilitarized zone and in Singapore to nail down final arrangements with their North Korean counterparts for a possible summit in just two weeks.
The flurry of activity surrounding possible talks between President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un appeared to be driven in large part by Trumpâs fixation on keeping a June 12 date for the meeting â" even though the president himself had abruptly called the whole thing off days earlier. In a series of tweets since then, Trump has suggested the summit will take place as scheduled in Singapore, even though his own advisers had warned last week it might be too late.
Trumpâs latest change of direction was another sign that he has thrown out the conventional Washington playbook for his diplomatic high-wire act. From his impulsive, on-the-spot decision in March to accept Kimâs offer to meet, Trump has rushed headlong into an accelerated summit process that has led analysts to warn that he risks moving too quickly and setting himself up for failure.
âThe pace of this stuff â" itâs gone from the roller coaster ride of North Korea to the carnival ride âThe Scrambler,â ââ said Bruce Klingner, a former U.S. intelligence official who serves as an Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation. âItâs dizzying. It throws off your inertia. At least a roller coaster is linear â" The Scrambler is all directions at once.â
[Top North Korean official on his way to U.S. for talks on Trump-Kim summit]
The latest sign was the news that Kim Yong Chol, a four-star general who has been at the forefront of North Koreaâs diplomatic outreach, had landed at Beijing Capital International Airport on Tuesday, according to television footage from the airport.
He was initially booked on an Air China flight to Washington but changed it to a Wednesday flight bound for New York, South Koreaâs Yonhap News Agency reported. That would have him arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport shortly after 2 p.m. Wednesday.
Kim Yong Chol was directly sanctioned by the Treasury Dep artment for his involvement in North Koreaâs nuclear program and illicit activities while he served as director of intelligence, so the United States would have had to grant a waiver to allow him to enter the country.
He now serves as head of the United Front Department, the arm of the ruling Workersâ Party that handles relations with South Korea. He is widely believed to have masterminded a 2010 attack on a South Korean naval corvette, the Cheonan, that killed 46 South Korean sailors.
On Tuesday morning, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that Pompeo would meet Kim Yong Chol in New York amid rumors in Seoul and Washington that the envoy would also meet with Trump.
Analysts said such a meeting, while unusual since Kim Yong Chol is not a head of state, would be viewed as a reciprocal gesture from Trump, given that Pompeo has met twice with Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang.
âI think it goes to show how fast this is all moving and th at all conventions are being broken,â said Victor Cha, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who served as a top Asia policy official in the George W. Bush administration. âWhen you do it this way instead of real, technical negotiations to get to a point of allowing this [summit] meeting â" weâre doing it backward. So all these things that are supposed to be big, important steps to symbolize success at the end are put up front at the beginning without promises.â
[South Koreaâs President Moon is the man in the (very precarious) middle]
Trump aides have emphasized that the president believes his personal commitment to the negotiations can help break a cycle of failure over U.S. negotiations to contain the Northâs nuclear weapons program that extends back nearly three decades.
Speaking on âFox & Friendsâ on Fox News on Tuesday, Kellyanne Conway, a senior White House adviser, credited Trumpâs letter last week canceli ng the summit for creating the âkinetic energyâ needed to get the parties talking more seriously.
âEver since then practically, North Korea, South Korea and the United States have been making very positive moves,â Conway said. âBut letâs see what happens, as the president says. If heâs satisfied, then it will go forward.â
In a tweet confirming Pompeoâs meeting with Kim Yong Chol, Trump said Tuesday that his administration has âput a great team together for our talks with North Korea. Meetings are currently taking place concerning Summit, and more.â
In explaining Trumpâs decision to formally cancel the meeting last week, a senior administration official told reporters in a background briefing at the White House that a U.S. delegation had waited in Singapore for three days only to be stood up by their North Korean counterpart for a key planning meeting. The official emphasized that the lack of communication from Pyongyang was a key reason i t was extremely unlikely that the summit could still happen on June 12, even though Trump left open the door to rescheduling in his letter to Kim Jong Un last week.
But Trump promptly undermined the administration official in a tweet over the weekend falsely accusing the New York Times of inventing the official as a source to cast doubt on the June 12 timeline. âWRONG AGAIN!â Trump wrote.
Analysts said they believed that planners in Singapore â" a highly efficient and technically proficient city-state in Southeast Asia â" could still pull off the logistics of the summitwith just two weeks remaining. They questioned, though, whether the United States and North Korea would be able come to general agreement ahead of the summit over the key question of Pyongyangâs commitment to a rapid plan to completely dismantle its nuclear program.
Sanders told reporters traveling with Trump to a campaign rally in Nashville Tuesday evening that âdenuclearization has to be on the table, and the focus of the meeting,â for the summit to be reinstated now.
âAnd the president has to feel like weâre making progress on that front. And the only one that will make that determination will be the president,â she added.
âThereâs a really big difference between what traditionalists say is necessary and what President Trump seems to think,â Klingner said of the summit planning. âBut Trump is going in quite a different way. When people say he canât get it all done in time, if you throw out the diplomatic playbook, perhaps it can be done â" if Trump just sees himself as the negotiator in chief and, as he said in âArt of the Deal,â goes with his gut and goes with his instinct.â
Fifield reported from Tokyo. John Wagner and Anne Gearan in Washington contributed to this report.Source: Google News