Before the leaders of two adversarial nations sit down for sensitive negotiations, the diplomatic legwork is generally exhaustive. Key areas of discussion are addressed in detail long before talks are even announced.
Which made it all the more bizarre when South Korean officials told Donald Trump that North Korea’s Kim Jong-un wanted a face-to-face chat, and the American president quickly accepted without any planning or forethought.
CNN had a report yesterday that suggests it’s dawning on some U.S. officials that the president’s approach – leaping, then looking – may have been unwise.
The Trump administration wants additional high-level talks with North Korea and assurances from Kim Jong Un that he is committed to giving up his nuclear program before next month’s planned historic summit in order for the meeting to go ahead, a senior administration official involved in planning for the talks told CNN.
“We need to have more conversations about what we would be talking about before we know if this is going to be useful,” the official said.
Yes. Exactly. Read that quote again: “We need to have more conversations about what we would be talking about before we know if this is going to be useful.”
That’s what a sensible president would’ve said to his team before announcing bilateral talks with the dictator of a rogue nuclear state.
So why didn’t Trump ask the right questions before agreeing to the talks? As it turns out, we have a pretty good idea what the answer is to that question.
The Associated Press reported this week, “Going into the North Korea meeting, senior administration officials say, the president has been almost singularly focused on the pageantry of the summit – including the suspenseful roll-out of details. He has not been deeply engaged in briefing materials on North Korea’s nuclear program, said three people with knowledge of the White House efforts.”
This is consistent with multiple recent reports about the Republican’s refusal to do substantive work ahead of the scheduled negotiations. Trump has instead been preoccupied with the summit’s “pageantry.” This is a president who cares about optics. And commemorative coins. And adoring fans chanting, “Nobel!” at campaign rallies.
It apparently never occurred to him to have meaningful conversations about what he would be talking about before he knew if this was going to be useful.