Recently it has been reported that:

Kim Jong-un has pledged a "new history" in relations with his neighbour as he became the first North Korean leader to set foot in South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

In a lot of social media (here, here and here) I have seen people attributing this breakthrough to work and "negotiating skill" of Donald Trump.

Is there any basis to these claims? How much influence has Donald Trump had on this event?

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    I don't think it is possible to have an answer at this point in time. Diplomacy involves to much mis-information for us to simply believe what the actors are saying, and Kim's reasons are hard to understand and we know too little about the internal affairs of NK that could be important factors in his decision-making.
    – Readin
    Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 2:59
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    It's probably more the work of South and North Korea but part of credit will also go to Donald Trump, only we are not yet sure if positive or negative. It's difficult to predict what would have happened with another president. One should wait it out and decide afterwards when more information is available. Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 9:13

6 Answers 6


According to South Korea's National Security Chief, Chung Eui-yong, speaking to the press after a meeting about North Korea with President Trump on March 08, 2018:

"I explained to President Trump that his leadership and his maximum pressure policy, together with international solidarity, brought us to this juncture. I expressed President Moon Jae-in’s personal gratitude for President Trump’s leadership."

Full transcript: South Korea official's speech on Trump-North Korea leader meeting by May

According to South Korea's Foreign Minister, Kang Kyung-wha, speaking to CNN on April 26, 2018:

South Korea's foreign minister has said she believes President Donald Trump is largely responsible for bringing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to the negotiating table.

Speaking ahead of Friday's historic summit between the leaders of North and South Korea, Kang Kyung-wha told CNN that the US President had played a significant role in bringing the two sides together.

"Clearly, credit goes to President Trump," Kang told CNN's Christiane Amanpour in Seoul. "He's been determined to come to grips with this from day one."

CNN report: South Korea credits Trump for opening door to talks with North

According to the President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, as reported by the BBC on April 27, 2018:

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said publicly too that President Trump deserved big credit for bringing about talks to discuss peace with the North. "It could be a resulting work of the US-led sanctions and pressure."

BBC report: Does Trump deserve the credit for peace talks with North Korea?

President Moon went further, saying that President Trump should receive the Nobel Peace Prize:

Donald Trump should win the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to unify Korea, the South Korean President has reportedly suggested.

"President Trump should win the Nobel Peace Prize. What we need is only peace," Mr Moon told a meeting of senior secretaries, according to an official who briefed media.

In floating the idea of a Trump Nobel, Mr Moon was responding to a comment by Lee Hee-ho, the widow of late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.

She said Mr Moon deserved to win the prize in recognition of his peace efforts, leading him to say Mr Trump should get it.

Sky News report: Donald Trump deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, says South Korea's President

New York Times report: A Trump Nobel Peace Prize? South Korea’s Leader Likes the Idea

According to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a joint press conference with President Trump on April 27, 2018:

"Today, we meet at a point in time where it has become very clear that the strength of the American president, where he really saw to it that the sanctions against North Korea are respected, has opened new possibilities, opened new ways."

CNBC report: Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel hold joint press conference

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    – Philipp
    Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 10:16

Trump has definitely had some influence, perhaps by accident or perhaps by design. Because of his nature and our collective inability to understand Kim Jong Un's inner thinking, it's hard to say for certain.

My opinion is that most of the credit for the historic diplomatic breakthrough probably goes to China and Xi Jinping. Kim recently travelled to China in March, which I suspect is when this detente was decided.

Trump definitely deserves credit for creating the circumstances in which China would feel the need to pressure North Korea towards a more peaceful path, both through his public statements and the current strained trade relations between the U.S. and China, since China may believe that by stepping down the Korean conflict they could ease some of the rhetoric coming from the administration. It could also be absolutely true that Kim felt pressure from Trump directly due to his style of conducting international relations, but unless he confirms it this point isn't known.

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    There's an argument by Patrick Chovanec at twitter.com/prchovanec/status/989895930727026689 addressing some of the many motivations involved, including that the South Koreans want to make peace on their terms before Trump gets involved. Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 16:57
  • @jeffronicus Not only that twitter make a lot of sense but looks like the full right answer we are looking for, please post a transcript and resume
    – jean
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 18:29
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    @jeffronicus That twitter sequence is the best summary I've seen and it fits with my knowledge and judgment on the matter. Please summarize in an answer. Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 11:09
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    @SpehroPefhany I've tried to sum up Chovanec's comments (and his expertise for making them) in an additional answer. Commented May 1, 2018 at 5:16

According to Chinese scientists, the last nuclear test in North Korea provoked the collapse of the mountain under which the testing base was built, basically crushing it. Kim's surprising change of policy and his statement about ending nuclear tests would then likely be due to his physical incapacity to pursue them.

In case this get confirmed, one could safely consider that Trump's determination has nothing to do with it, unless we suppose that willpower can literally move mountains.

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    The problem with this answer is that it suggests that either the collapse of the mountain or Trump motivated North Korea to come to the table. Surely they both could be significant factors, no?
    – default
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 20:06
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    @pauld I bring one possible explanation that didn't figure in the previous answers, I don't pretend it is the only one. If there are small damages on the testing site, maybe diplomatic issues are a decisive factor. But if the site is out-of-use for many years, one would expect Kim to bargain the end of nuclear tests for economic or diplomatic gains regardless of the US President's actions.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Apr 28, 2018 at 8:33
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    The problem with "the mountain caused peace" logic is that none of the previous Kim families needed nuclear weapons to fuel their antagonism. The massive amounts of artillery pointed towards Seoul, and their conscription of nearly every able-bodied citizen, gave reason enough for two previous Kims to antagonize everyone around them. This is, of course, to say nothing of the fact that Jong-un still has nuclear weapons. The testing facility collapsed, but they still have operable warheads, and facilities to make more
    – Knetic
    Commented Apr 28, 2018 at 22:14
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    It also overlooks the astounding coincidence that Chinese geologists just happened to warn about possible collapse a few weeks beforehand and that the collapse happened immediately before a scheduled nuclear test, which raises a serious possibility of sabotage by either Chinese or US forces. Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 17:55
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    I'm a little dubious on this one. North Korea has quite a few mountains and preparing another one for any tests they wanted to perform would just represent a delay, which fits with "pausing" testing during discussions but does not represent any necessity to seek any particular long-term outcome. In any case, the next logical demonstration of capabilities (assuming his 'deterrent' is not taken seriously) would be an atmospheric test of an nuclear-armed ICBM in the South Pacific, which does not require a mountain. Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 11:11

According to commentator Patrick Chovanec, what's going on is a complex multiparty affair in which President Trump has played a key role, but not necessarily a central one. (I posted his Twitter thread at https://twitter.com/prchovanec/status/989895930727026689 on this topic as a response to an earlier answer and was asked to post a summary of his arguments.)

Chovanec is an observer of Asian affairs as managing director of a large asset management fun, former biz prof at Tsinghua University in Beijing, adjunct professor at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and as one of the few Americans who has visited North Korea.

Notable points:

  • The impeachment and removal of South Korean President Park led to her replacement by President Moon, whose party has long felt they could negotiate with North Korea.
  • North Korea appears to have achieved its goal of being able to threaten the U.S. with nuclear weapons, which combined with President Trump's rhetoric about North Korea means that South Korea and Japan have to wonder how much U.S. interests line up with their security concerns.
  • China's willingness to cooperate with the U.S. on North Korea appears to have been compromised by Trump's focus on trade issues with China, including the tariffs on Chinese goods.
  • Kim turned on the charm offensive at the Olympics and reached out to South Korea, leaving the U.S. as a bystander. South Korea's Moon later conveyed Kim's desire to meet with Trump to Trump -- and may have been the instigator.
  • And Moon has been dangling the prospect of a peace treaty with North Korea.
  • Kim may be eager to see some payoff from his nuclear program, possibly from looser sanctions.
  • Japan's Abe has political problems at home and is on the sidelines.
  • Trump wants a victory and Moon is happy to give him credit as long as Moon is getting what he and South Korea want.

Chovanec offers many caveats about this nuanced situation, but seems to suggest it's a way Kim can win a place on the world stage and get sanctions eased on North Korea while giving away very little and putting on a show in the Korean DMZ to make Trump look good.

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    I read that tweet and everything makes a lot of sense a good read anyway. The only thing I disagree (and strong disagrees) is NK will take it as an opportunit to make an snake attack on SK the day US tropes come home. NK has not interest in attacking SK that's nosense ans SK has a big and modern military. Also remember NKxSK conflit is in fact a USxChina conflit Korea was a nation torn apart by the fear China has of US building military baes in his borders and US fear China becoming more and more influent
    – jean
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 11:44

In response to Michael_B's answer, just this past week Chrintine Ahn, founder of Women Cross DMZ, was on the podcast Citations Needed. Here's a short snippet from their conversation, which I think is a worthwhile perspective from someone who is actively involved in the peace movement in Korea.

Christine Ahn: It's so amazing to me how much the media just doesn't get the Korea situation at all. And part of it has to do with the South Korean government, and Moon Jae-In's masterful diplomacy, I mean frankly he knows what a narcissistic psychopath-- I mean I don't know if he knows that but they clearly know and have studied very closely Donald Trump and, you know, they have made statements such that "it is because of Donald Trump and the US's maximum pressure campaign" and, they have known all the gracious ways to frame things so that he feels that this is-- Yeah you know, it's like everybody's managing somebody that is a really injured person, an unwell person

Nima Shirazee: You just sort of pat him on the head be like "yup you did this" and then actually go about your business of making peace.

Christine Ahn: Right, absolutely, so I think in that sense Moon Jae-In has been very masterful, but the reality is, the backstory is-- and of course we will never get this in the main stream media, in the corporate, military media, military industrial complex-- is, you know, why did the shift take place? And I would say for sure this threat of a US preventive war-- quote unquote preventive war, whatever that is, illegal preemptive strike against North Korea-- would have so much freaked out the North and the South Koreans that, I mean the Congressional Research Service says that in the opening days of a conventional military conflict, three hundred thousand people would be killed, right? Because if you think you're gonna go and do these precision strikes on North Korea where they have hidden-- they have it on mobile sites-- you know, they have the experience of surviving an indiscriminate US bombing campaign, do you think-- and they have witnessed what has happened to Libya, what has happened to Iraq, do you think that-- you know we think that we have another thing coming in terms of thinking that it would be a stealth mission-- and so there would be a counter strike: There's 87 US bases, there are 30,000 US troops in South Korea. There would be a counter retaliation, so South Korea has seen very clearly, I mean we saw the whole situation with that guy Victor Cha, who is a hawk, and even he couldn't be confirmed by the Trump administration because he wouldn't endorse their bloody nose strategy. So, we see that the Trump administration pushed so hard, McMaster, the crazies in the Trump administration pushed so hard that it basically brought the two Koreas together. And I think that this recent gesture that they were going to resolve the conflict diplomatically, they they were going to help bring an end, has basically taken away the raison detre for the US to say "we are gonna go and do this-- if negotiations with Pyongyang don't go well, then we have to go to Plan B". Well South Korea has basically taking away that reason, that justification, so I think that's a brilliant move.

So in essence, Trump's "maximum pressure policy" and threats of an invasion (his new National Security Advisor John Bolton recently published an article in the Wall Street Journal: "The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First") may have sparked the current round of talks and diplomacy, but the fact is that that diplomacy was entirely arranged between North and South Korea, and Donald Trump did nothing to actually encourage the diplomatic path. So, maybe he and his administration did get us to the current situation, but probably more by accident than through a particularly brilliant strategy.

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    I am not sure how this answer differs from @Michael_B's. " , we see that the Trump administration pushed so hard, McMaster, the crazies in the Trump administration pushed so hard that it basically brought the two Koreas together." is basically the same explanation he gave. Maybe it is thanks to Trump's clever tough play, or maybe it is thanks to Trump's foolish tough play, but you both cite Trump's tough play as a decisive factor.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 8:30
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    It's kind of hard to read this when Christine's throwing out conspiracy loon buzzwords at a breakneck pace. Commented May 1, 2018 at 10:18
  • I don't really see where you think she has referenced any sort of conspiracy. I added citations in case you need them.
    – Kai
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 6:02

It is difficult to say what is bringing about the current interesting situation, or whether Kim Jong Un will actually carry through on what he is saying.

However, in this Reuters story, current S Korean president Moon Jae-In responded to a comment from the widow of former S Korean president Kim Dae-Jung that Moon should get the Nobel Peace prize, by saying that Trump should get the prize instead for his contributions by ramping up the pressure on N Korea.

Granted, that's just a quick response, and I seriously doubt the Nobel committee would consider it. However, it would appear that Moon Jae-In, who would be in a position to know, believes that the current US administration has made a major contribution to the major change in direction that the N Korean government appears to be making.

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