President Donald Trump is prizing his deal-making intuition over intensive preparations as he gears up for his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next week.
“It’s about attitude,” Trump said Thursday in the Oval Office sitting alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who flew to Washington aiming to help prepare Trump for the summit.
As the North Korean summit nears, the President’s top advisers on North Korea have provided him with briefings on rogue nation’s nuclear program and the US intelligence community’s assessments of the North Korean leader Trump will face in Singapore next week. But they have also worried that Trump has not sufficiently internalized that information and is instead eager to head into the first meeting between a sitting US president and North Korean leader by relying on his intuition.
“I think I’m very well-prepared. I don’t think I have to prepare very much. It’s about attitude. It’s about willingness to get things done,” Trump said.
He added that he has “been preparing for this summit for a long time,” though he didn’t give specifics.
In private, Trump has cast himself as knowledgeable about North Korea based on his past business dealings in Asia and what he has claimed is an understanding of Kim’s personality. And he’s told aides that an innate ability to strike deals will guide him during the June 12 sit-down, according to several sources familiar with the matter.
The President’s freewheeling approach to the talks has worried both administration officials and close US allies who have urged the President to stick to a more conventional approach to negotiations.
During a visit to Mar-a-Lago earlier this year, Abe urged Trump to set up a trilateral coordination group for the US, South Korea and Japan to coordinate preparations for the summit and develop a unified position.
But Trump rejected the offer, according to two sources familiar with the meeting. Instead, Trump told Abe that he preferred to follow his own “gut” as he prepared for negotiations with Kim and touted his dealmaking prowess. One source said Japanese officials were stunned by Trump’s rebuke and his preference for following instinct over careful preparations.
Skeptical of career diplomats
Trump remains inherently skeptical of advice from officials with long careers dealing with North Korea, people familiar with his mindset say. He has angrily asked why the problem of a nuclear-armed North Korea hasn’t been solved before, and questioned why their advice from should be taken if Pyongyang’s nuclear program has only scaled up.
He has not eschewed preparation sessions altogether. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has had the most face time with Kim of any US official, has spent one-on-one time with Trump to discuss a strategy for convincing Kim to relinquish his nuclear weapons. But those sessions have been kept intentionally brief in order to maintain Trump’s attention.
Aides have also begun using a time-tested technique of presenting Trump with maps and charts illustrating Pyongyang’s nuclear program, a practice that’s proven helpful in past preparation sessions with the visually oriented President.
Trump’s advisers have also worried that Trump will be outmatched by Kim when it comes to discussing technical issues related to dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program, sources said.
Speaking several hours after Trump, Pompeo insisted the President would be well-versed in different aspects of the North Korea situation when he sits down with Kim.
“Over months and months, days and days, President Trump has been receiving briefings on this issue, about the military aspects, commercial, economic aspects of it, the history of the relationship,” he said at the White House.
Pompeo described “near-daily briefings,” including on Thursday, where officials have provided “all of the information that he needs.”
“I am very confident that the President will be fully prepared meeting with the North Korean counterpart,” Pompeo said.
Ultimately, Trump said Thursday, the success of the summit will come down to a “question of whether or not people want this to happen.”
Publicly and privately, Trump has stressed the extent to which he is personally best-prepared to broker a deal that would lead to the denuclearization of North Korea and peace on the Korean peninsula. He has repeatedly stressed the failures of past presidents, and the Trump administration has stressed that previous attempts to reach an agreement with North Korea by first holding lower-level summits have failed.
Trump’s comments Thursday also suggested that Trump plans to engage the North Korean dictator in much the same way he has engaged other world leaders, by focusing on the importance of the personal relationship between two leaders.
Trump has often analyzed the US’ relationships with other countries through the lens of his personal relationships with those leaders – prizing close relationships with leaders like Japan’s Abe and France’s Emmanuel Macron as much as he has been quick to get frustrated with German Chancelor Angela Merkel, with whom Trump has not clicked.