WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump returned to Washington on Sunday night flush with excitement after a long day during which he and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hailed each other from the two sides of the Demilitarized Zone and Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to venture onto North Korean soil.
Later as Trump, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in stood outside Freedom House in the DMZ, Trump invited Kim to be the first North Korean leader to visit the White House.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 1, 2019
The two leaders agreed that Washington and Pyongyang would resume denuclearization talks, such as those that occurred during the two leaders’ first meeting in Singapore in 2018. At the second such summit, in February in Hanoi, Vietnam, Trump abruptly ended the meeting when the leaders hit an impasse. “Sometimes you have to walk,” Trump explained.
The latest Kim visit was not on the schedule Wednesday when Trump left for Asia for the two-day Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan. On Saturday, Air Force One headed to Seoul for an overnight after dinner with Moon at the presidential Blue House.
Before Trump left Osaka, however, he tweeted that when he arrived in South Korea, “if Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and to say Hello(?)!”
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(?)!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 28, 2019
Trump maintained that the face-to-face meet had not been planned. But before he left for Asia, Trump told The Hill he would visit the DMZ and might meet Kim while there.
When the two met, Trump thanked Kim for making him look good.
“When I put out the social media notification, if he didn’t show up, the press was going to make me look very bad. So you made us both look good, and I appreciate it,” Trump offered.
“I was proud to step over the line,” Trump told Kim as they met on the South Korean side of the truce village of Panmunjom. “It is a great day for the world.”
Kim hailed the moment, saying of Trump, “I believe this is an expression of his willingness to eliminate all the unfortunate past and open a new future.” Kim added that he was “surprised” when Trump issued an unorthodox meeting invitation by tweet on Saturday.
During a news conference with Moon, Trump said, “The Obama administration was begging for a meeting with Kim.”
Former Obama national security aide Ben Rhodes denied that claim on Twitter. “Trump is lying,” Rhodes wrote. “I was there for all 8 years. Obama never sought a meeting with Kim Jong Un.”
In other tweets, Rhodes attacked Trump on foreign policy. “Photo ops don’t get rid of nuclear weapons, carefully negotiated agreements do.” And: “Kim knows Trump just wants photo ops and Trump knows most US media will give him a win for a photo op.”
Democratic presidential hopefuls also weighed in.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts tweeted, “Our President shouldn’t be squandering American influence on photo ops and exchanging love letters with a ruthless dictator.”
Our President shouldn’t be squandering American influence on photo ops and exchanging love letters with a ruthless dictator. Instead, we should be dealing with North Korea through principled diplomacy that promotes US security, defends our allies, and upholds human rights. https://t.co/9ROpNfjYbY
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) June 30, 2019
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota told CNN that it was positive Trump was speaking with Kim, but the situation is not as easy as “bringing a hot dish over the fence to the dictator next door.”
As he left South Korea on his flight to Washington, Trump tweeted that he had “a wonderful meeting” with Kim. “Stood on the soil of North Korea, an important statement for all, and a great honor!”
Leaving South Korea after a wonderful meeting with Chairman Kim Jong Un. Stood on the soil of North Korea, an important statement for all, and a great honor!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 30, 2019
Trump had predicted the two would greet one another for about “two minutes,” but they ended up spending more than an hour together. The president was joined in the Freedom House conversation with Kim by his daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, both White House advisers.
The North has balked at Trump’s insistence that it give up its weapons before it sees relief from crushing international sanctions. The U.S. has said the North must submit to “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” before sanctions are lifted.
As he announced the resumptions of talks, Trump told reporters “we’re not looking for speed. We’re looking to get it right.”
He added that economic sanctions on the North would remain. But he seemed to move off the administration’s previous rejection of scaling back sanctions in return for piecemeal North Korean concessions, saying, “At some point during the negotiation things can happen.”
But the North has yet to provide an accounting of its nuclear stockpile, let alone begin the process of dismantling its arsenal.
The latest meeting, with the U.S. president coming to Kim, represented a striking acknowledgement by Trump of the authoritarian Kim’s legitimacy over a nation with an abysmal human rights record. Kim is suspected of having ordered the killing of his half brother through a plot using a nerve agent at a Malaysian airport in 2017. Meantime, the United Nations said in May that about 10 million people in North Korea are suffering from “severe food shortages” after the North had one of the worst harvests in a decade.
Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to meet with the leader of the isolated nation last year when they signed an agreement in Singapore to bring the North toward denuclearization. Every president since Ronald Reagan has visited the 1953 armistice line, except for George H.W. Bush, who visited when he was vice president.
In the midst of the DMZ gathering, Trump repeatedly complained that he was not receiving more praise for de-escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula through his personal diplomacy with Kim. Critics say Trump had actually inflamed tensions with his threats to rain “fire and fury” on North Korea, before embracing a diplomatic approach.
North Korea’s nuclear threat has not been contained, according to Richard Haas, president of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations. He tweeted Sunday that the threat of conflict has subsided only because the Trump administration has decided it can live with North Korea’s “nuclear program while it pursues the chimera of denuclearization.”
While North Korea has not recently tested a long-range missile that could reach the U.S., last month it fired off a series of short-range missiles. Trump has brushed off the significance of those tests, even as his own national security adviser, John Bolton, has said they violated U.N. Security Council resolutions.