Despite Trump’s efforts to make the moment appear a casual coincidence, it has in fact been well choreographed.
The world woke Saturday to a Tweet from Trump saying: “After some very important meetings, including my meeting with President Xi of China, I will be leaving Japan for South Korea (with President Moon). While there, if Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!”
The fact is, the President’s visit to the highly fortified Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) while visiting South Korean President Moon Jae-in following the G20 Summit in Japan has been an open secret for a while. It’s a plan that couldn’t be discussed publicly to protect his security.
“All I did was put out a feeler if he’d like to meet,” Trump told reporters at the G20 a little later.
Then over-egging his contrived laissez-faire diplomacy, “I said if Chairman Kim would want to meet, I’ll be at the border. We seem to get along really well. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”
A “quick hello” is all he is after, Trump added.
Just before going departing Japan for Seoul journalists quizzed Trump again on how his last-minute offer was going down.
His team “got a call very quickly” the President said, adding Kim “follows my Twitter.”
What followed was a rare moment of laughter from a press corps hardened to Trump lies and half-truths when he said: “A lot of people follow it.”
And so Trump spun his accounting of how this potential meeting, his third with the hermit kingdom’s ruler came to be – an apparent contrast with the previous two in Singapore and Hanoi which came with great fanfare, and little meaningful outcome.
Which is the rub here, Trump touts Kim’s lack of long-range missile and nuclear testing as progress, and ignores zero movement on the core issue: denuclearization.
Yet Trump proposes taking Kim’s hand and have the dictator lead him on to North Korean territory where the bodies of American servicemen were killed in the 1950s Korean war where their bodies lie after they fell on the land around.
Last summer in Singapore, Kim promised Trump he would repatriate the fallen heroes – only a handful of whose bodies have been handed over, but the search has now stalled.
Asked if he would be okay crossing the highly militarized DMZ, Trump replied, “Sure I would,” adding “I feel very comfortable doing that. I would have no problem.”
If he does, Kim will have him just where he wants him – in a photo opportunity he can milk for his own propaganda, casting him as a strong leader able to stand up to American imperialism.
Trump wanted to visit the DMZ on his last visit to Seoul, excited it seemed by President Moon’s handshakes and smiles with Kim on the same spot a few months earlier, but bad weather prevented it.
But events have moved on since then. Not only has Kim slowly rolled Trump on any meaningful action, he has begun to break out of his hermit-like isolation – visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok recently as well as holding three meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping – two in Beijing and the last one a little over a week ago in Pyongyang.
In short, Kim and North Korea are being drawn away from a potential US orbit of influence, which is just the way Xi and Putin want it.
Kim has far less reason than before to comply with anything Trump wants, which makes the US President’s stroll onto North Korean land all the more ludicrous.
“We’ll see each other for two minutes. That’s all we can. But that will be fine,” Trump said.
While it’s hard to tell if he is dissembling or dreaming, either way if he does come, Kim won’t care.