A proposed agreement for President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to sign during their Vietnam summit this week “is a bad deal for the United States.”
That’s not the view of a cynical expert, or a Democrat. It’s the view of a top national security adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Trump and Kim are in Hanoi to discuss how to strike a deal to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program. Under the current iteration of the agreement, first reported by Vox on Tuesday, the US would lift some sanctions on North Korea in exchange for a commitment from Kim to close down a key nuclear facility.
Both leaders would also sign a peace declaration to end hostilities toward each other and open liaison offices in both countries, and North Korea would return the remains of a yet-unspecified number of missing US troops who fought and died in the Korean War.
But when asked publicly about the deal, Moon Chung-in, a special adviser for foreign affairs and national security to South Korea’s president, was not impressed.
“It’s a good deal for North Korea and a bad deal for the United States,” he said during a Tuesday speaking engagement at the Korea Economic Institute in Washington.
When I followed up with him after the session, Moon reiterated his point. “It’s not a very good deal,” he told me. For all the incentives the US is giving North Korea, “the US can get much more than that,” he said.
Why Moon Chung-in’s statement matters
His statements are, frankly, shocking — and here’s why.
Moon Chung-in’s boss, Moon Jae-in (no relation), has been a fervent champion of the US and North Korea’s attempts to end the years-long nuclear standoff, and he’s consistently asked both parties to concede more to one another.
For one of his top advisers to trash the proposed agreement is more than surprising, because it could drive a major wedge between US negotiators and their South Korean counterparts. That matters for the North Korea talks as the South Koreans have proven to be important conduits in certain diplomatic moments.
It’s unclear as of now if the South Korean president agrees or disagrees with his aide, though. And regardless of what Trump and Kim sign, Seoul will surely praise the result in an official, canned statement.
Moon Chung-in did hedge toward the end of his public remarks. In response to another question about the agreement, he said “there is no such thing as a bad deal,” indicating that as long as US forces don’t leave South Korea and negotiators don’t leave the room screaming, any diplomatic accord would prove a sign of progress between the US and North Korea.
Still, a top adviser of a critical ally in the US-North Korea talks just trashed the general outline of what Trump and Kim may sign in two days. And if South Korea isn’t happy, it’s possible Trump’s negotiators may have to scramble to either satisfy their ally or change the proposed deal altogether.