Just over a year into a presidency already full of unusual precedents, President Trump has agreed to a North Korean offer, communicated through South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong, to meet face to face with Kim Jong-un. Though such meetings have been bandied about in the past, no sitting U.S. president has ever met with a sitting North Korean Supreme Leader. It is a prospect fraught with risk and opportunity.
Kim reportedly made this offer along with a statement that North Korea is “committed to denuclearization.” He left ambiguous what he would want in return, though, according to Chung, it involves a commitment that South Korea and the United States “not repeat the mistakes of the past.” Given what Pyongyang has previously demanded, this likely refers to upholding our side of any bargain, and possibly an end to what they call America’s “hostile policy” (i.e., our alliance with South Korea, proximate U.S. military assets, joint military drills, and economic sanctions).
It is a bewildering and unexpected development. Just a few weeks ago, Kim and Trump were trading barbs about how stupid the other is and making explicit threats of nuclear aggression. Answers to a few preliminary questions are in order.