- BBC World News
Donald Trump’s meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are among the most striking moments of his presidency.
In the BBC produced series called Trump Takes On the World (Trump Conquers the World), under the direction of Tim Stirzaker, we uncovered new details about how those encounters unfolded and spoke with those who were present at those encounters.
What they saw surprised even the most experienced diplomats, especially when Trump offered the North Korean dictator to take him home on Air Force One, the presidential plane of the United States.
Trump’s second summit with Kim Jong-un, held in Hanoi (Vietnam), did not go as planned. When negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear program failed, Trump abruptly left and told reporters: “Sometimes you have to walk.”
But before leaving, the then president of the United States made an astonishing offer to Kim.
Matthew Pottinger, Trump’s National Security Council’s top Asia expert said: “President Trump offered to take Kim home on Air Force One. The president knew that Kim had arrived on a multi-day train ride to through China to Hanoi and The president said, ‘I can get you home in two hours, if you want’. Kim refused. “
A ‘spontaneous mistake’
The offer of a ride home was one of many surprises in an unlikely relationship between the two men that began in Singapore when, as John Bolton, former White House National Security Adviser, told us, “Trump thought he had a new best friend”.
There, Trump made another gesture that surprised his own team, when he agreed to Kim’s request to cancel joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea.
“Kim Jong-un, as he had done many times in the past, complained about the large joint exercises between the South Korean and American forces, which had been going on on the Korean peninsula for more than 60 years,” he said. Bolton to the BBC.
“Trump, out of nowhere, said: ‘I’m going to cancel the war games [como los llamó]. There is no need for them, they are expensive and will make you happy. ‘ I could not believe it. (Secretary of State) Pompeo, (Chief of Staff) Kelly and I were sitting in the room with Trump and we weren’t consulted. That just came out of Trump’s mind. It was a spontaneous mistake. It was a concession for which we got nothing in return, “added the former White House adviser.
Trump’s secret message to Kim
The fact that the meeting between the two leaders took place came as a surprise to many.
Just a few months before, Trump had been calling Kim “Rocket Man” (rocket man) and had threatened North Korea with “fire and fury.”
Jeff Feltman, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, describes how at the height of the crisis he delivered a secret message from Trump to Kim offering a meeting.
Feltman had been invited to Pyongyang by the North Koreans, but the US State Department had told him that they didn’t think it was a good idea. However, a few weeks later, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres visited the White House.
“They were comparing notes on what was happening, what could be possible, how dangerous it was, how likely a military response would be, all that sort of thing. And Secretary General Guterres told President Trump, ‘Jeff Feltman has this strange invitation to go to Pyongyang and lead a political dialogue with the North Koreans, “Feltman said.
“And Trump leaned over to him and said, ‘Jeff Feltman should go to Pyongyang and Jeff Feltman I should tell the North Koreans that I’m willing to sit with Kim Jong-Un“he added.
Feltman rejected in Pyongyang
When Feltman went to Pyongyang, he stressed to the North Koreans the seriousness of the situation. He told us: “The main message that I tried to convey, and this was in response to their arguments about the need for deterrence, is that what they see as deterrence can spark the same war that they think they are deterring.”
The UN official requested a private meeting with the North Korean foreign minister to convey Trump’s secret message.
“There was a bit of silence before the foreign minister said, ‘I don’t believe you, why should I believe you.’ And I said, ‘Look, I’m not asking you to believe me. What I’m telling you is that the UN was entrusted bring a message from President Trump; I am the bearer of that message, “Feltman recalled.
“I went to Pyongyang deeply concerned by the feeling that war was imminent. I left Pyongyang terrified that what we were really risking was an accidental war,” he added.
Trump stuns South Korean ambassador
Kim did not respond directly to Trump’s message, but months later he told South Koreans that he was ready to meet with the president of the United States. South Korea’s national security adviser rushed to the White House to break the news.
Then-US National Security Adviser HR McMaster describes the moment Trump said “yes” to a meeting: “Ambassador Chung almost fell off his chair because he thought it would be difficult for him to accept. “
Like many in the White House, McMaster had serious reservations about meeting with Kim but, like much of Trump’s foreign policy, the president was going to do it his way.
As McMaster puts it: “I felt it would be better to let Kim Jong-un feel the pressure a little more. But of course, the president would not resist that opportunity.”
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