Foreign Policy

Only Donald Trump Could Go to North Korea

Trump becomes the first U.S. president to set foot in the Hermit Kingdom.

Thomas Gallatin · Jul. 1, 2019

In what Ivanka Trump described as a “surreal” event, President Donald Trump stepped across the line separating North and South Korea, becoming the first U.S. president to set foot on North Korean soil. On Sunday, Trump met North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in Panmunjom, where the two leaders shook hands and Trump briefly crossed over a few yards into North Korea. The highly symbolic gesture was clearly intended by Trump to send the message that he is still serious about seeking a peaceful, diplomatic means to ending North Korea’s nuclear threat.

This was Trump’s third meeting with Kim, after the second highly anticipated summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, ended abruptly after North Korea failed to agree to any substantive policy changes. At the time Trump noted that “sometimes you have to walk.”

Following Sunday’s meeting, Trump offered guarded optimism regarding the restart of the denuclearization talks, stating, “They’ll start a process, and we’ll see what happens.” He added, “Speed is not the object. We want to see if we can do a really comprehensive, good deal. Nobody knows how things turn out, but certainly this was a great day. This was a very legendary, very historic day.”

Trump’s unconventional “personal diplomacy” foreign policy method has critics complaining of him offering legitimacy to ruthless despots like Kim. However, Trump argues that “a lot of great triumphs have been based on relationships.” The Wall Street Journal calls it the “Trump Doctrine,” where he relies on personal magnetism to lead to deal making. “Mr. Trump is betting, as he always does, that flattery and personal engagement can persuade Mr. Kim to give up his nuclear weapons.”

The president believes that establishing a relationship with Kim may pay off big in the long run, and thus far it has at the very least eased tensions. As far as U.S and South Korean interests are concerned, Trump has not conceded any ground, while at the same time he has given room for Kim to denuclearize while still saving face. Like Trump said, we’ll see what happens.

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