- Earlier this month, South Korean and North Korean officials met for landmark negotiations amid the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
- President Donald Trump reportedly asked South Korean President Moon Jae-in to publicly acknowledge his role in advancing the bilateral talks between the two Koreas.
- Moon later said Trump deserved credit and that he made a “huge” contribution to the talks.
Less than a week after North Korea signalled interest in participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, President Donald Trump reportedly asked South Korean President Moon Jae-in to publicly acknowledge his role in progressing the bilateral talks between North and South Korea, according to a Washington Post report.
Five days later, during his New Year’s press conference, Moon raised eyebrows after saying Trump deserved credit for facilitating the talks. Answering a reporter’s question, Moon grinned and said he believed the US president made a “huge” contribution to the first dialogue between North and South Korea in over two years, and said that he wanted “convey his thanks.”
Meanwhile, Trump touted his role in the negotiations that, at least on the surface, appeared to be progressing at the time.
“Right now, they’re talking about Olympics,” Trump said at a press conference, two days after the call with Moon. “It’s a start. It’s a big start. If I weren’t involved, they wouldn’t be talking about Olympics right now. They’d be doing no talking or they would be much more serious.”
During his call with Moon, Trump reportedly referred the South Korean president as “Jae-in,” the equivalent of calling someone by their first name in South Korea, while Moon called Trump “Mr. President,” people familiar with the matter said to The Post.
But the phone call did yield results. Trump and Moon agreed to suspend their joint-military drills, which North Korea vehemently opposes, until after the Winter Olympics.
One former official reportedly expressed scepticism over Moon’s assertion during the press conference – which drew some laughter in the room at the time – and said that Moon was trying to steer Trump trump away from his policy of pressuring North Korea, The Post reported.
A shadow over Moon’s young presidency
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s provocations in 2017, namely his nuclear and missile weapons tests, cast a large shadow in South Korea and Moon’s nascent administration.
Moon, who replaced his embattled conservative predecessor eight months ago, has pursued a qualified détente with North Korea. This has become even more crucial during this unpredictable period when his country is at the center of attention due to the upcoming Winter Olympics.
Though the former official claims that Moon is steering Trump away from his policy of pressure, it remains to be seen whether Moon remains capable of handling the driver’s wheel. Trump’s rhetoric toward North Korea and its leader, which has swayed between inconclusive praise and outright hawkishness, has arguably dictated the tone of North Korean relations.
The bilateral negotiations, which have primarily centered around North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympics, are still underway. North and South Korea have already agreed to several terms, including fielding a joint-women’s ice hockey team and marching together under a unified flag during the opening ceremony.
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