Now that there is a time and a place set for the summit meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, some question whether Kim would have ever come to the table had a different, more predictable president been in the White House. South Korea’s leader, President Moon Jae-in, went so far as to deflect credit to Washington, suggesting that Trump deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.
But Moon can’t be eclipsed so easily: While the historic talks — set, according to Trump, for June 12 — are partly due to Trump’s campaign of maximum pressure and maximal rhetoric, not to mention Kim’s quest for international recognition, the summit would likely never have happened if it hadn’t been for Moon’s behind-the-scenes efforts to finally bridge the North-South divide.
“I think he’s the completely underrated catalyst for the inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korean engagement that we have,” says Mintaro Oba, a former State Department official who specialized in the Koreas in the Obama administration.
“Moon wants to be the mediator. He sees himself as the mediator. He has played a role as a mediator,” says Patrick Cronin, senior advisor and senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. “The Moon-Trump relationship has to this point worked brilliantly, far better than anybody would have expected on left or right.”
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