The Atlantic

How South Korea Pulled Trump and Kim Back From the Brink

Will Moon Jae In achieve a breakthrough—or will his peace offensive blow up in his face?
Source: Reuters / Blue House

To be in South Korea in mid-May—when North Korea released American hostages and Donald Trump announced his summit in Singapore with Kim Jong Un and the leaders of China, Japan, and South Korea gathered in Tokyo to talk denuclearization and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula—was to feel as if the spring of 2018 might be one of those moments when history, after plodding along for decades, suddenly moved very fast.

And pushing it along was South Korean President Moon Jae In, who had lobbied hard for talks between Trump and Kim and whose diplomatic investment seemed to be paying off as the summit approached. Even last week, when history seemed to come to a screeching halt as Trump canceled the summit, Moon kept pushing, holding his own surprise summit with the North Korean leader on Saturday. Moon had been blindsided by Trump’s decision, but he was moving to reassert control over what he still hopes could be a historic breakthrough for peace on the Korean peninsula. Human history, one of Moon’s advisers told me recently in Seoul, “is ... governed by certain law of heavenly mandate. There is a time for peace—that is a dictate of nature. And Moon Jae In is following that heavenly mandate.”’

Whatever his mandate, Moon is scrambling to save the summit, which Trump might still happen, despite the “trail of broken promises” an administration official North Korea of leaving behind. On Sunday, in fact, American officials in North Korea to proceed with summit preparations. Shortly before Trump pulled out of the summit over the North’s “open hostility” and his administration’s doubts about the North’s commitmentSouth Korea’s national-security adviser the odds of the Trump-Kim meeting occurring as scheduled at 99.9 percent. Sometimes history turns on 0.1 percent probabilities.

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