Ahead of Moon Jae In’s meeting with Donald Trump on Tuesday, a South Korean official said his president’s trip to Washington would serve as “a bridge” between the United States and North Korea, so that Trump and Kim Jong Un can conduct successful nuclear negotiations when they meet in Singapore on June 12. This is the charitable view of the visit. The bleak interpretation is that Moon is bringing his car to a screeching halt at the foot of the bridge and leaping into Trump’s car instead to help direct the president before he can veer away from the bridge and over a cliff.
“There are certain conditions that we want” for the June 12 talks, Trump said after greeting Moon at the White House, without specifying what those conditions are. “I think we’ll get those conditions. And if we don’t, we don’t have the meeting. … If it doesn’t happen, maybe it will happen later. … We will see.”
This was not a ringing endorsement of a world-historical summit that is set to take place in precisely three weeks. Nor was it likely an encouraging sign for the Moon government, which favors engagement with North Korea. Indeed, South Korea’s frenetic shuttle diplomacy among players in Pyongyang, Washington, Beijing, and beyond since the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics has been a critical factor in shifting the drama over North Korea’s nuclear weapons from the fire-and-fury sort that dominated last summer and fall, to the peace-and-pageantry variety on display today. Everything that South and North Korea agreed to during their summit at the border in April—the joint economic projects, the declaration to end the Korean War, the pursuit of a peace treaty to transform relations between the Koreas and the United States—hinges on the progress of U.S.-North Korean nuclear talks.