Finally, though neither Cha nor Yun said so explicitly, they implied that the summit itself has already boosted Kim’s standing and reduced Trump’s leverage, especially if its outcome falls short of the most optimistic goals. Kim, who was one of the most isolated leaders just a few months ago, has now had two meetings each with the Chinese and South Korean presidents, two with Pompeo, one coming up with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad (another story entirely, given their past joint ventures on military programs and nuclear reactors), and an invitation from Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet with him—all this before the summit with Trump, and all this before meeting with Trump.
Furthermore, even before the summit, China and South Korea have started to relax sanctions against North Korea, which, until talk of the summit began, had been tightening—and Pyongyang had begun to feel the pain. South Korean President Moon Jae-in will almost certainly loosen sanctions further in the coming months, Cha and Yun said, if only to build on the growing harmony with his neighbor to the north. China, which had long been alienated from North Korea, is more engaged as well for economic and geostrategic reasons. If, say, in the wake of a failed summit Trump wanted to re-impose “maximum pressure,” he would have a hard time getting others to go along with it.