President Trump will meet North Korean defectors in the Oval Office on Friday, a provocative action meant to highlight human rights violations and one that could raise alarms in Pyongyang.
Trump is expected to meet with eight defectors — six who live in South Korea and two who live in the United States — two days after he punctuated his State of the Union address by praising Ji Seong-ho, a defector from North Korea who had been invited to watch the address from the first lady’s box. Ji will be among the group at the White House on Friday.
Another of the eight defectors is Lee Hyeon-seo, a prominent human rights advocate who recounted her harrowing escape, including being sold as a bride in China, in a memoir called “The Girl with Seven Names.”
The visit will offer the president a chance to shine a spotlight on human rights abuses in North Korea at a time of growing tensions over Pyongyang’s ongoing nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests.
“No regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea,” Trump said Tuesday night during the annual address to Congress. “North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland.”
The visit was arranged by Greg Scarlatoiu at the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, a person familiar with the meeting said. Trump has sought to highlight the human costs of dictator Kim Jong Un’s regime, but foreign policy experts warned that there are risks to such a strategy.
“Meeting [North Korean defectors] in the Oval raises the question of whether the U.S. strategy is regime change,” said one foreign-policy expert who specializes in East Asia.