Trump's lauded North Korea summit increasingly looks set to blow up in his face

  • President Donald Trump's North Korea summit with Kim Jong Un increasingly looks doomed.

  • Trump has often talked up his work on North Korea, crediting himself with creating the conditions for talks through a hardline policy, but those self-congratulatory tweets could come back to haunt him.

  • But he's reportedly ill-prepared for the summit and worries it could blow up in his face as an embarrassment.

  • South Korea may have misled Trump a bit before the talks, and North Korea is almost certainly misleading him.

  • North Korea experts fear that failed talks could lead the US to an even more militaristic path, possibly even to war against Kim.

President Donald Trump stands less than one month away from making history as the first sitting US president to meet a sitting North Korean leader — but it's increasingly looking like he's ill-prepared and sailing towards embarrassment.

Trump has of late talked up his work on North Korea, crediting himself with creating the conditions for talks through a hardline policy. But that self-congratulation could come back to haunt him.

Throughout 2018, North Korea has pursued diplomacy with its neighbors on the back of a vague promise to denuclearize. Pyongyang's apparent wish to make peace with South Korea after Trump's nuclear brinkmanship throughout 2017 shocked much of the world and has generated Nobel Peace Prize buzz for the president.

But now Trump worries his meeting with Kim Jong Un "could turn into a political embarrassment," The New York Times' David Sanger reports, citing administration officials.

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In mid-May, with only weeks until the historic summit, North Korea flipped on the US and South Korea, blasting them both with a series of complaints that seemed like a tantrum.

Sanger reported that Trump questioned whether or not he should even go through with the summit and hastily spoke by phone to South Korean President Moon Jae-in for reassurance.

Trump has so far stayed the course with the summit, which represents a major part of his foreign policy accomplishments as president. For Kim, meeting a US president is a legitimizing win, lending his country previously unattainable international credibility.

But instead of Kim hoping the US grants him the legitimacy of a meeting, it now appears Trump is the one trying to hold on to a meeting North Korea appears willing to ditch.

Additionally, Trump is reportedly not thrilled about preparing for the summit, which will cover not only the narrow issue of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula, but also virtually every major flash point in East Asian geopolitics.

Trump "doesn’t think he needs to" prepare for the summit with Kim that much, a senior administration source told TIME.

Trump may have been misled

But if Trump is ill-prepared for the summit, and it does blow up in his face, he can share some of the blame.

"It increasingly looks like the Moon administration overstated North Korea’s willingness to deal," North Korea expert and political science professor Robert Kelly tweeted.

"Moon likely exaggerated this to tie Trump to a diplomatic track to prevent him from backsliding into last year’s war-threats which scared the daylights out of South Koreans. If Trump were less vain and had allowed his national security staff to vet the NK offer, he might have learned this," Kelly added.

It had been reported that Trump came dangerously close to striking North Korea last year. In doing so, he may have scared South Korea, not North Korea, into negotiations.

South Korea has reasons to push for diplomacy with North Korea, not least of which is that its citizens would likely bear the brunt of the suffering and death if war broke out.

The stuff could hit the fan

On June 12th in Singapore, Trump will face a task like never before in meeting Kim.

North Korea has measurably gained from its diplomatic offensive by forging closer ties with China — and, as Trump has acknowledged, seemed to get Beijing to ease off sanctions. Trump's main achievement on North Korea thus far has been getting China to adhere to international sanctions.

Kim unwinding Trump's main win on the North Korean front with a sophisticated diplomatic ruse could prove embarrassing to Trump before the midterm elections, when he looks for a boost for the Republican Party.

North Korea experts fear that failed talks could lead the US to an even more militaristic path, possibly even to war against Kim.

Trump's newly appointed national security adviser, John Bolton, has long advocated for war with North Korea. And he has been partly blamed for the recent collapse in diplomatic progress.

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