All Eyes On Trump and Kim, But South Korean Leader Deserves Kudos

Jesse Jackson | 6/15/2018, 7:07 a.m.
Monday was the eve of the summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. As the ...
Jesse Jackson

Monday was the eve of the summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. As the two leaders meet Tuesday morning in Singapore, hopefully they will at least agree to a process that can provide a framework for further negotiations.

The spotlight will be on Trump and Kim. Yet, the meeting is taking place only because of the extraordinary leadership of someone who won't even be there - South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Remember how we got here. In 2017, Trump and Kim were trading insults and threat. Trump called Kim "Rocket Man" in his first address to the United Nations, promising to unleash "fire and fury the world has never seen" if North Korea continued to development nuclear weapons. Kim called Trump a "mentally deranged US dotard."

The threats did not deter the North Koreans. They tested 20 missiles over the course of the year, plus their largest nuclear bomb. By the end of the year, Kim claimed - and the Pentagon acknowledged - that North Korea might have the capacity to strike the U.S. with a nuclear tipped inter-continental ballistic missile.

Trump responded that he had a bigger and more powerful nuclear button, and "my button works."

The turn came in January 2018.

The North Korean president used his New Year's address to wish the South Koreans good luck in hosting the Winter Olympics. South Korean President Moon jumped on the opening, inviting North Korea to attend the Games. The athletes of North and South marched as one delegation under one flag. Kim sent his sister to the Games, with a formal invitation to Moon to begin bilateral talks. Moon had pledged during his 2017 campaign to take the "driver's seat" to revive the "sunshine policy" opening to North Korea and to achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

At the Games, Vice President Mike Pence ignored Kim's sister, but Moon chose instead to agree to a historic meeting with Kim. That meeting sparked exchanges, with South Korean officials reporting that the North Korean leader wanted to meet with Trump and was prepared to discuss "denuclearization."

At their summit meeting in April, Moon gave Kim a thumb drive that outlined a framework for economic cooperation that might be possible with a diplomatic opening. Moon then reported to Trump that Kim was serious about wanting to talk.

Moon's initiative led to Trump agreeing to meet with Kim, and the meeting was scheduled for June 12.

Moon surely deserves much credit for responding to Kim's initiative and pursuing it in the face of the contentious exchanges between the Trump administration and the North Koreans.

Yet after the meeting was set up, Trump's national security adviser John Bolton seemed intent on sabotaging it, suggesting that the U.S. was following the "Libyan model." (Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had surrendered his nuclear materials as part of an opening to the West. The France and U.S. then led an international intervention Libya that ended up with Gaddafi deposed and murdered. Not exactly an appetizing prospect for Kim).