South Korean President Moon Jae-in said former President Donald Trump “failed” in his dealings with North Korea because he “beat around the bush” during negotiations, a stunningly undiplomatic public assessment of a fellow world leader delivered during a New York Times interview published Wednesday.
Moon said the denuclearization of North Korea is a “matter of survival” for South Korea, and stressed that the U.S. must find a way to cooperate with China and North Korea on various global issues, such as climate change. He also warned a breakdown in relations between the U.S. and China could be disastrous for his country.
“If tensions between the United States and China intensify, North Korea can take advantage of it and capitalize on it,” Moon said, adding that, when Trump left office, North Korea had yet to remove a single nuclear warhead. The rogue regime also recently restarted its weapons tests.
“He beat around the bush and failed to pull it through,” Moon said of Trump’s work on the North Korea issue. “The most important starting point for both governments is to have the will for dialogue and to sit down face to face at an early date.”
Moon added that, while “it’s clearly an achievement for President Trump that he held the first-ever summit meeting between North Korea and the United States,” the former president failed to follow through delivering on his 2018 claim that “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”
He also noted that Trump’s demands of South Korea during negotiations over defense cost-sharing “lacked reasonable and rational calculation,” and said that South Korea and the Biden Administration were able to reach an agreement within 46 days of the Democrat entering office. Moon added an extra jab at Trump in saying that the swift negotiations were a “clear testament to the importance President Biden attaches to” the two countries’ relationship.
Moon added that he tried to support Trump’s “top-down diplomacy,” which focused on his personally reaching out to the North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un at a time when many analysts feared war was inevitable, but notes that Biden has returned to the “bottom-up” diplomatic approach that has traditionally been favored.
“I hope that Biden will go down as a historic president that has achieved substantive and irreversible progress for the complete denuclearization and peace settlement on the Korean Peninsula,” Moon said.
But he later said that, while Biden has begun to reverse many of Trump’s foreign policy decisions, he should not rescind the agreement that Trump and Kim reached in 2018 at their summit in Singapore.
“I believe that if we build on what President Trump has left, we will see this effort come to fruition under Biden’s leadership,” Moon said.
He added that the U.S. and North Korea should move towards denuclearization with “gradual and phased” steps, while “simultaneously” providing each other with concessions and incentives.
“This dialogue and diplomacy can lead to denuclearization,” Moon said. “If both sides learn from the failure in Hanoi and put their heads together for more realistic ideas, I am confident that they can find a solution.”
Moon’s comments come as the South Korean president is reportedly attempting to salvage his diplomatic efforts, known as the “Korean Peninsula Peace Process,” which has failed to push North Korea to commit to denuclearization. Negotiations recently collapsed, which coincided with Moon’s approval ratings falling to record lows as his government faces a real estate scandal.
“His good intentions brought bad consequences,” said Korea University professor Kim Sung-han. “His mediation has not worked nor do we have progress in denuclearization. His time is running out.”