The former deputy national security adviser to President Barack Obama said Sunday that he has spoken to his former boss about the potential meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump, and Obama is rooting for the meeting’s success.
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“I think the nation should be rooting for diplomacy to work with North Korea and I think that's certainly President Obama's view,” Ben Rhodes told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl during an interview on “This Week” Sunday.
Rhodes warned, however, that he has not seen evidence that the Trump administration is "equipped for this negotiation.”
“We have to realize there's nothing more complex than nuclear negotiations,” Rhodes said. “There's no place in the world more volatile than the Korean peninsula. You cannot just approach this like a reality show. This has to be something where you bring in the experts, you invest in the same type of capabilities in our government that we've seen this administration turn their back on: Science and diplomacy.”
The plan for Trump to meet Kim Jong Un follows an announcement Thursday night at the White House Thursday by a South Korean national security official that the U.S. president had accepted an invitation from Pyongyang to meet.
Following the announcement, Trump took to Twitter to say the meeting is being planned.
It has not yet been determined where or when the two leaders would meet in what would be the first sit-down between a U.S. president and a North Korean leader.
Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze. Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time. Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 9, 2018
On Saturday, Trump criticized the strategies taken by former presidents in dealing with escalating nuclear aggression from North Korea.
“They had their shot and all they did was nothing,” Trump said at a rally in Pennsylvania.
Rhodes said Sunday that the Obama administration never fielded a direct offer to meet with a North Korean leader.
According to data from the Center for Strategic and International Studies Missile Defense project, the number of missile launches by North Korea steadily increased between 2012 and 2016. North Korea completed two nuclear tests in 2016, the second of which they said demonstrated a nuclear weapon capable of being mounted on a warhead. In 2016, by ABC News’ count, the North conducted 21 missile tests.
The Obama administration implemented a policy of “strategic patience” that focused on increasing sanctions against North Korea. Though the Trump administration has continued with sanctions, Vice President Mike Pence condemned the policy in April stating that “the era of strategic patience is over.”
Rhodes said Obama administration policies on North Korea have been mischaracterized.
“We pursued a pressure track on North Korea for eight years,” Rhodes said. “We did tighten sanctions. We had a situation where they had tested a nuclear device in 2006 before we came into office and we just tightened the pressure for all eight years.”
Trump has said that American sanctions against North Korea will remain in place until after the proposed meeting.
In 2017, after Trump took office, North Korea has by ABC News’ count conducted 15 missile tests, three of which were intercontinental ballistic missile tests, the last being on Nov. 28. On North Korean state television, Kim Jong Un's regime claimed the latest missile was a new, nuclear-capable weapon that could reach the continental United States. North Korea has not conducted another missile test since.
Rhodes said on "This Week" that South Korean President Moon, who since taking office in 2017 has worked to advance diplomatic relations between North Korea and that U.S., is likely responsible for Kim’s willingness to meet with Trump. Rhodes also said Kim’s motives for wanting to meet with Trump ought to be considered.
“I think he wants to have the legitimacy that is conferred upon him by a meeting with the president of the United States,” Rhodes said. “And that is a very powerful thing.”