Letter from Kim puts Korea summit back on track

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President Donald Trump announced Friday that his historic summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is now back on for June 12 in Singapore. Trump made the announcement after an hour-long meeting with a top North Korean official. (June 1)
AP

WASHINGTON — Such are the stakes in President Donald Trump’s quest for nuclear talks with North Korea that the fate of the world seemed to rest on the contents of a single, sealed envelope.

Inside was a personal letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to Trump, to be hand-delivered by Kim’s envoy — the second most powerful man in North Korea — Vice Chairman Kim Yong Chol.

Trump received that letter in a highly anticipated ceremony at the White House Friday, the first such meeting with a high-ranking North Korean official in 18 years. 

“This was a letter presentation that ended up being a two-hour meeting,” Trump said later, emerging from the Oval Office in visibly good spirits for a 15-minute give-and-take with reporters. 

“It was a very interesting letter,” he said. “You may be able to see it. Maybe fairly soon.”

He pretended to auction off the letter: “How much? How much? How much?” he said, pointing to reporters as if they were bidders on a not-to-be-missed piece of diplomatic memorabilia.

But then, minutes later, he conceded that he himself had not read it. “I haven’t seen the letter yet. I purposely didn’t open the letter.”

“Would you want me to open it?” Trump asked Kim.

“You can read it later,” Kim said, according to Trump.

The moment was a typical display of Trump showmanship, even on life-or-death matters of preventing nuclear war. “I may be in for a big surprise, folks!” Trump joked as he turned back to the Oval Office — ostensibly to finally read the letter he’d talked so much about. 

For Trump, keeping the world in the dark about his negotiating strategy is a fundamental part of his style of diplomacy — a high-stakes game where Trump alone knows what cards he holds. 

And it is gamesmanship. After backing out of the summit just eight days ago — sending his own letter to Kim citing “tremendous anger and open hostility” — Trump suggested that the cancellation was just part of a jockeying for position.

“Everybody plays games,” he told reporters then. “You know that better than anybody.”

But that unread letter from Kim also symbolizes the unanswered questions about the June 12 summit in Singapore: Is North Korea serious about giving up its nuclear arsenal? Is Trump prepared to life sanctions as a show of good faith to make that happen? Would U.S. troops remain on the Korean peninsula. And how will Trump address other thorny issues, like the regime’s deplorable human rights record?

Trump did commit to not imposing any additional sanctions while talks are underway, and he said he’d like to see a day when he can lift them entirely. And he said he’d like to facilitate a formal peace treaty to end the Korean War, which has technically been in a state of prolonged cease-fire since 1953.

But he also sought to lower expectations that any of that can be accomplished in a single summit.

“It’s a process,” the president said.

“I’ve never said it happens in one meeting,” he added. “I think you’re going to have a very positive result in the end — not from one meeting.”

And certainly not from one letter.

 

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