The developments regarding Korea this week are astonishing. We may be witnessing a breathtaking outbreak of peace, when not very long ago a nuclear war seemed possible. Now that the Koreas have gotten the diplomatic ball rolling, can President Donald Trump do his part?
For Trump’s planned meeting with Kim Jong-un, announced at the White House by South Korea’s security director Chung Eui-yong, to be successful, the administration will need to do a lot more diplomatic leg work than it’s used to. It will also be important to set expectations appropriately-we can’t expect one meeting between the two leaders to end in a comprehensive agreement like the Iran nuclear accord, which took years to negotiate. But challenges aside, it’s hard to imagine how Trump could scuttle this progress, short of calling off the meeting or throwing in the towel at the first disagreement and pivoting back toward threats of war.
Now South Korea, with its right-wing opposition to budding Nobel Peace Prize candidate President Moon Jae-in, or North Korea, with its unpredictable leader Kim Jong-un, could well mess things up on their own, so the extremely hopeful thaw in relations brought about by the Olympic Truce is far from a done deal.
However, it seems North Korea has put so much on the table, probably more than President Moon could have asked for, that there should be no going back. And for his part, Trump already made one wise decision, agreeing to President Moon’s request to postpone the massive U.S.-South Korea military exercises after the conclusion of the Paralympics in South Korea in late March. Now that Pyongyang accepts that the exercises will proceed next month (an astonishing concession given North Korea’s legitimate security concerns in relation to the war games), Trump has the chance to do what no president has done in seven decades-help achieve lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.