WASHINGTON — The historic meeting between North and South Korea gave President Trump an opportunity Friday to tout thawing tensions on the peninsula but experts said it also puts pressure on the president to deliver during his own meeting with Kim Jong Un.
The images of Kim stepping into South Korea marked a stunning departure from the global insult-trading that he and President Trump engaged in last year, but it also set up an expectation of Trump delivering concrete results from the mostly symbolic goodwill.
Analysts said that will be far harder, and they warned that over exuberance at this stage would play into Kim’s hands. Inter-Korean summits took place in 2000 and 2007.
“The details here really matter,” said Laura Rosenberger, director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy at German Marshall Fund of the United States who worked on North Korea in both the Bush and Obama administrations.
“I worry that, with this president, he’s going to be focused on the optics and getting some big win even if it’s going to be an empty agreement.”
Speaking in the Oval Office during a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, Trump pointed to his upcoming meeting with Kim. He said back channel negotiations were finalizing the details of that summit and reiterated that he could “hopefully make a deal” or “we will leave the room.”
"The United States has been played beautifully like a fiddle because you had a different kind of leader," Trump said. "We’re not going to be played."
Trump appeared more optimistic on Twitter, writing in all caps that “KOREAN WAR TO END!” and adding that the U.S. “should be very proud of what is now taking place in Korea!”
Rosenberger and other analysts cautioned against that level of optimism.
Kim is "the one who’s really setting the stage here,” she said.
"I actually think it puts him in a bit of a corner," Heather Hurlburt, director of the New Models of Policy Change at the nonpartisan New America Foundation, said of the inter Korean summit's impact on Trump's own meeting.
"There are no specifics on any of the things that the U.S. cares about," she said. "Trump, I think, can very easily find himself in a situation where everybody else has gotten what they want and he doesn’t get what he wants."
Still in flux is both the timing and location for the meeting between the two leaders. Trump said on Friday that negotiators had narrowed the number of possible sites down to two or three. Negotiators are considering Singapore and Mongolia, among other countries. China and the demilitarized zone are other possible locations, analysts said.
Trump has said the talks could take place in May or June.
Officials familiar with planning for the meeting said they want to see if Kim is serious about taking steps to disarm before they commit.
They also want to know exactly what Kim means by the term "denuclearization."
In the past, the North Koreans have defined it as simply freezing and keeping current programs in place; they have also said it means that the United States give up its nuclear umbrella over the Korean Peninsula, something past governments have been unwilling to do.
Trump himself has cited North Korean violations of past agreements as signs that a deal, and a meeting, may not be in the offing.
"If I think that it's a meeting that is not going to be fruitful, we're not going to go," Trump said last week after meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. "If the meeting, when I'm there, is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting, and we'll continue what we're doing or whatever it is that we'll continue. "
The White House has been eager to tout its own engagement with North Korea in the days leading up to the summit with South Korea. The administration released two photographs on Thursday of an Easter weekend meeting between Mike Pompeo, now the Secretary of State, and the North Korean leader.
In a statement Thursday, the White House linked the inter Korean summit with Trump's upcoming meeting. Press secretary Sarah Sanders said the administration “appreciates the close coordination” with South Korea and that it looked forward “to continuing robust discussions in preparation for the planned meeting” between Trump and Kim Jong Un.
“They’re making a political effort to link them,” said Jeffrey Lewis, an analyst at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. “It’s a good thing that they’re talking, but this doesn’t really have anything to do with anything the Trump administration has done.”