The man who, until recently, was America’s top negotiator on North Korea revealed Pyongyang was caught off guard by President Donald Trump’s shocking decision to meet Kim Jong Un.
A South Korean official told reporters outside the White House on March 8 that not only had Kim expressed a desire to meet Trump, but the president had agreed to the unprecedented meeting. Oddly, North Korea has yet to publicly comment on the summit.
“To be frank with you, I think they were a little bit surprised that Washington, President Trump readily accepted,” former U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Joseph Yun, who retired unexpectedly last month, told CNN Friday. “They thought it would take a little time.”
“They were not completely prepared. So, I think they are preparing at the moment … scrambling you might say, on how best to respond,” he added. “I think you would see [a response] in coming days, something coming out.”
Seoul asserts that North Korea has offered to discuss denuclearization, but North Korea has yet to send any signals that it is ready to talk about disarming. Furthermore, there are serious concerns over whether or not Pyongyang can be trusted, as North Korea has promised to never develop nukes and to give up the nukes it said it would never possess, and the rogue regime violated all of those agreements.
Nonetheless, Yun, who helped negotiate Otto Warmbier’s return to the U.S. in 2017, is optimistic about the possibility of talks and the chance to peacefully address the threat facing the U.S. and its allies and partners.
“I’m very supportive of (Trump’s) decision to engage at the highest levels,” Yun revealed in his first interview since he left the Department of State. “They now have nuclear weapons and a delivery system that can legitimately threaten all states in the United States. That is different from the past, where we were trying to stop them from getting there, so it requires different attention, different focus and a different approach.”
Some critics have suggested that Trump is getting “played” by Kim, who is eager to have a meeting with an American president to elevate his status on the world stage.
“I don’t think there is anything wrong in acknowledging that he is a leader of North Korea who has nuclear weapons,” Yun explained. “What I hope comes out of the summit is that President Trump and Kim Jong Un paint a broad brush of the framework of where we need to go, agree on some principles and agree to kick off a process.”
With the loss of Yun, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and no one occupying the position of ambassador to South Korea, the U.S. is lacking in the diplomacy department, but the president has a history of making decisions in isolation and acting on his gut.
Yun acknowledged that if the meeting goes awry, it could lead to a rapid rise in tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
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