The White House announced on Friday that President Trump will meet with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, in late February. A White House official said the date and the location of the meeting would be announced later.
The announcement came after a 90-minute meeting in the Oval Office between President Trump and Kim Yong-chol, a former North Korean intelligence chief, who has acted as the top nuclear negotiator for Kim Jong-un.
Meanwhile, President Trump’s demands that South Korea take on far more costs for hosting U.S. troops is straining the alliance and potentially playing into North Korea’s hands ahead of a second summit.
South Korea has about 28,500 U.S. troops on more than 20 sites and paid $855 million last year toward the total $2B cost. But the cost-sharing pact expired at the end of last year after 10 rounds of negotiations that left — in the words of one foreign ministry official in Seoul — a “huge gap” between both sides.
South Korean lawmakers and experts worry that Trump is so obsessed with Seoul paying more that he could take the previously unthinkable step of withdrawing some troops if a deal is not reached. That would be an indirect gift to North Korean leader Kim, undermining one of the most important cards the United States has during negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear program, experts say.
South Korean lawmakers called Trump’s demand unacceptable. Many members of Moon’s administration began their political careers as left-wing pro-democracy student activists, who were inclined to see the U.S. troop presence as more motivated by American strategic interests than South Korea’s views.
In “Fear,” Bob Woodward’s account of the Trump White House, the U.S. president is described as being obsessed with the cost of the U.S. troop presence, angrily threatening to pull them out on more than one occasion. At various times, he was talked down by a host of insiders, including former defense secretary Jim Mattis, former secretary of state Rex Tillerson and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Victor Cha, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “There’ll be nothing to filter what Trump wants to do, nothing to filter a very uniformed view on how he wants things done.”
[From a Washington Post analysis]