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Although Donald Trump may have made history over the weekend by becoming the first incumbent US president to step onto North Korean soil, the elaborately staged event did nothing for the substance of Korean denuclearization.
That’s according to a variety of experts who observed the impromptu summit between Trump and North Korea strongman Kim Jong Un.
“I think it is a great historic moment, almost to the day, the 27th of July marks the 66th anniversary of the beginning of the armistice and as we indicated the first time a sitting president set foot in North Korea but when it comes to the business of negotiating here, I think that is another story,” former director of national intelligence James Clapper said, referring to the date which ended military hostilities in the Korean War.
Trump touched down on the Korean Peninsula to meet with Kim and the president of South Korea after his participation in a G-20 meeting in Osaka, Japan.
The staged event involved Trump walking up to the border, shaking hands with Kim, followed by a meeting between the two for about 40 minutes.
“What did we see here today? We saw a lot of political theater, we saw some history,” said NBC international affairs reporter Richard Engel. “I think we saw Kim Jong-Un in a totally uncomfortable environment. He was welcomed absolutely into President Trump’s space. Seemed to be a bit overwhelmed by it. This is not a leader used to being surrounded by a press scrum that is doing things improvisationally.”
The meeting of Trump and Kim at the DMZ was the third face-to-face encounter between the two men, following summits in Singapore and Hanoi.
However, like the pair’s day at the DMZ, the meetings in Singapore and Hanoi were long on stagecraft but short on actual results to curb North Korea’s nuclear program.
“So I never imagined anybody would come up with something more dramatic but you have to hand it to Trump. He knows his showbiz pretty darn well and he did that,” David Gergen, a White House counselor to presidents of both parties, said in an on-air interview. “Having said that, Ana, it’s obviously all about symbols and way over substance. The communications people in the White House may drool over this, but the national security advisers are probably retching over it. Because it promises a lot and they’re nowhere close.
“And our own CIA still believes the North Koreans don’t want to denuclearize,” Gergen added. “They don’t feel it’s in their interest. That’s at the heart at what the United States is seeking from them.”