An unexpected North-South Korean summit

So is the on again, off again summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un… on again? There was a surprise announcement from the DMZ today, showing Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in once again greeting, hugging and smiling in the DMZ on the North Korean side. Moon has been struggling to hold some sort of deal together ever since the event planning went sour this past week. The fact that the two were meeting face to face is raising the question of whether or not the deal may be back in motion. (New York Post)

South Korean President Moon Jae-in met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Saturday to discuss Kim’s possible upcoming summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, the South said, the second inter-Korean summit in as many months.

Moon and Kim met just north of the heavily militarized border in the afternoon to exchange views to pave way for a summit between North Korea and the United States, South Korea’s presidential office said.

Moon will announce the outcome of his two-hour meeting with Kim on Sunday morning, officials said.

We should probably be careful not to read too much into this until there’s some sort of official announcement. We won’t have that until tomorrow morning, but it’s not hard to guess what the two leaders were talking about.

While anyone who has been following the history of Kim’s family should rightly be questioning his sincerity, Moon Jae-in still has more to lose than America does if the entire process falls through. A lot more. Both halves of the Korean peninsula have much to gain and potentially even more to lose from rapprochement. South Korea might be able to move away from the pins and needles situation they’ve been living under for half a century if the borders come down, the armies stand down and Kim isn’t pointing all of those missiles at them. North Korea might see an end, or at least a significant weakening of sanctions and begin to receive more food and other resources for his starving nation.

At the same time, South Korea may wind up taking a huge economic hit if they suddenly have to bolster the collapsed economy of their neighbors to the north. And Kim could conceivably have to deal with the backlash from his own citizens if they are suddenly able to access unfiltered news from the rest of the world and come to understand how horribly they’ve been treated by their own leaders.

With all of that said, I’m still wondering if Moon’s main goal is actually to make the meeting between Kim and Trump happen. Let’s say that North Korea still has zero intention of ever actually abandoning their nuclear weapons and ICBMs. (This is not an unrealistic scenario.) Despite Trump’s hints that the summit could still happen, that should make any possible deal between Kim and Trump a non-starter for us, right? If denuclearization is off the table, why even take the meeting? But failing to come to terms with the United States doesn’t necessarily mean that North and South Korea can’t put an end to the war on their own. If they do that and Kim agrees to stop testing his nukes (while still keeping the ones he has), then China is going to breathe a huge sigh of relief and probably go back to fully and openly supporting North Korea.

Just chew on that scenario for a little while. Right now we’re waiting to hear if the Trump-Kim summit is back on the schedule. But it’s possible that the announcement won’t have anything to do with us. This could turn out to be an end run that cuts the U.S. out of the deal entirely. Is that still a win? Not if Kim is keeping his weapons intact. Of course, this all remains speculation until we hear what Moon has to say tomorrow.