As he introduced “Hanoi Summit: The Start of Real Negotiations?” on Thursday morning, Reid Pauly quipped, “It’s a good thing we put a question mark in the title.”
Pauly, a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, may have been joking, but the interrogative hung over the panel on Thursday in the wake of the sudden end of the Trump administration’s second U.S.–North Korea summit.
The Harvard Korea Working Group seminar at the Belfer Center was convened to assess the outcomes of the summit, but the four panelists found themselves instead weighing the results of the aborted meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Although the summit’s sudden end is widely seen as a failure, the panelists’ take was generally upbeat.
“Contrary to much of the headlines, I think this was a great success,” said Katharine Moon, Wasserman Professor of Asian Studies at Wellesley College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. She said she has drawn several conclusions from the talks, all of which point to the resumption of more normal diplomacy.
“Donald Trump finally encountered the fact that his self-dubbed charm offensive has its limits and now real experts need to do the work,” she said. Attempting to go it alone, she said, Trump “confronted the real North Korea, which plays hardball,” including “evidence that North Korea does not have intentions to give up or bargain away its nuclear capabilities.” In fact, the decision to pull out was a sign of that progress, in that Trump, who reportedly may have been tempted to seek a deal at any cost, was “reined in” by his senior advisers, she said.
Gary Samore, co-chair of the Kennedy School’s Korean Security Study Group, was equally optimistic. “This could turn out to be a very positive learning experience for both leaders,” he said. “It wasn’t just that Trump now recognizes that personal chemistry and warmth are no substitute for preparation, Kim Jong-un has learned that he can’t just deal with Trump directly and circumvent the rest of the U.S. government.”