A former U.S. ambassador to South Korea said that President Donald Trump should delay his upcoming “risky” meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un scheduled for May.
Alexander Vershbow, who served as U.S. ambassador to South Korea from 2005 to 2008, told Newsweek it is too early to know what Pyongyang really wants and how serious it is about denuclearization. For that reason, he added, more work needs to be done sounding out the North Korean position ahead of talks between Trump and Kim.
President Trump agreed to meet with Kim and discuss North Korea’s denuclearization. South Korean diplomats engaging with Pyongyang say North Korea is ready to talk about a possible abandonment of its nuclear weapons program after months of growing tensions on the peninsula following a number of missile tests by Kim’s regime.
“I do think it’s a good idea although I worry about the timing,” Vershbow said. “Trying to do this before the end of May is a bit risky.”
Vershbow, however, acknowledged that Trump’s tough sanctions policy against North Korea has proven successful at bringing the hermit regime to the table. He also recognized the positive outcome of the diplomatic pressure the U.S. president’s administration put on China to tame its neighbor and ally.
“But there’s a danger that with inadequate preparation for the summit meeting, that success could be squandered. There could be a breakdown in the dialogue before it even gets off the ground,” said Vershbow, who currently serves as a senior advisor to the political consultancy Rasmussen Global.
“So I would argue for pushing back the date by a few months at a minimum, setting in motion a much more rigorous process of negotiations at the secretary of state level, or even a lower level, to try to get clearer answers on what the North Koreans are prepared to discuss and agree in these talks,” he added.
Vershbow said it was encouraging North Korea was ready to consider denuclearization but added that “there is no understanding of what conditions they attach to that.”
North Korea has not yet publicly acknowledged the Trump-Kim meeting, which is only confirmed by the U.S. and South Korean governments. The Kim regime has said little through state media.