The Trump/Kim Meeting: Asia Society Experts Weigh In

Donald Trump plans to meet with Kim Jong Un

Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images

The news that President Trump plans to meet with Kim Jong Un — the first face-to-face meeting between sitting North Korean and American leaders ever — is a stunning development in the conflict between the two countries over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. It's also, for Trump, a significant about-face: The president had once dismissed diplomacy with North Korea as "a waste of time" and as recently as last fall, threatened to "totally destroy" the country in a speech delivered at the United Nations.

Was North Korea's offer to meet Trump a genuine attempt to de-escalate the crisis? Or is it simply a ruse to extract concessions from an American president who has long claimed prowess as a negotiator? 

Here's what Asia Society experts have said about the news. (We'll add more reactions to this page as they come in).

Kevin Rudd — President, Asia Society Policy Institute, on CNN Today:

I think we should take this offer at face value and work with it. You never slam the door shut when it has creaked open just a little bit — and this has creaked open quite a bit.

Daniel Russel — Diplomat in Residence, Asia Society Policy Institute, in the Washington Post:

[North Korea has] long said that ‘if the president would engage directly, then who knows what’s possible? The fact that they’re looking for the face and the legitimization and the validation of direct engagement of the president of the United States is not new. And it’s not inconsistent with their strategy of seeking to be treated like the Soviet Union, seeking to be accepted as a nuclear peer.”

Isaac Stone Fish — Senior Fellow, Center on U.S.-China Relations in the Sydney Morning Herald:

While there are concerns that the summit was arranged hastily, and that meeting in May won't give the American side much time to prepare, this is the best chance for the reduction or removal of tensions in the Korean peninsula that the world has seen in years, if not decades. Unless it's a total disaster, or the North Koreans renege on a deal shortly after its signed, this could be a big win in the short term for Trump.

It’s worth remembering, however, the unlikelihood of North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons. North Koreans are aware of what happened to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi — neither of whom had nuclear weapons — and it’s extremely unlikely that Kim will give up his own. Moreover, it will be incredibly difficult to verify if North Korea has given up its nuclear weapons. In 2009, in regards to North Korea’s nuclear assurances, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Pyongyang that he “was tired of buying the same horse twice." The North Koreans could resell that same horse to Trump — for a much higher cost.

Lindsey Ford — Director of Political-Security Affairs, Asia Society Policy Institute, on MSNBC's Ali Velshi:

It’s fair to say, ‘Hey, the things we tried in the past didn’t work, so we’re going to try something different.’ But the reality is that you should take that kind of risk in a very considered way. And it’s unclear to me that this agreement to meet really happened in a thoughtful, considerate way.

It’s not just going to be the president and Kim Jong Un hammering out this deal. It’s going to be the staffers who do all the work leading up to the event to make it possible. And you really want to give them time and space so they have a good result.

I’ve got my fingers and my toes crossed.

About the Author

Profile picture for user Matt Schiavenza

Matt Schiavenza is the Assistant Director of Content at Asia Society. His work has appeared at The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, The New Republic, Fortune, and strategy + business among other publications.