During an off-camera briefing Wednesday afternoon, senior White House officials discussed the upcoming official working visit of South Korean President Moon Jae-in to the US.
On Thursday evening, President Trump will host South Korean President Moon for the first time at the White House. Both early into their terms, this visit is an opportunity for the presidents to form a rapport and reaffirm the US—South Korean alliance.
According to White House officials, a central focus of discussions will be on North Korea: a rogue dictatorship that both leaders consider to be an urgent threat. The Trump administration believes it can work closely with the South Korean government to implement a coordinated effort in dealing with the regime.
Rather than targeting regime change, the stated aim of the US and South Korea is for the complete disarmament of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. President’s Trump and South Korean President Moon are open to engagement with North Korea once they believe the conditions are satisfactory. Until that time, both leaders look to increase pressure on the regime.
For its part, the White House will “substantially increase economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea in order to change their calculus to have substantive talks with us.” This pressure comes in the form of acute economic sanctions and a diplomatic pressure campaign in collaboration with other countries.
Talks with North Korea will occur only when the regime shows they are willing to reduce their threat, specifically in terms of their ballistic missile technology and nuclear program. The Trump administration is particularly concerned with the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) designed to target the US.
In addition to the North Korean threat, President’s Trump and Moon will cover bilateral agreements and trade between the two nations. President Trump believes aspects of the economic relationship are not balanced and trade with South Korea must be discussed “frankly.”
Explaining the imbalance, one senior White House official highlighted the barriers for selling American automobiles in South Korea, as well as steel trade involving China. In spite of the increase in US exports to the peninsula, the POTUS believes there remains a large trading gap with South Korea.
Where President Trump believes South Korea has paid its fair share and been an ‘ideal ally’ is in its defense spending. President Moon wants to continue to develop the defense of a country that already spends roughly 2.7% of its GDP on defense and has paid enormous sums to host US troops. It remains to be seen if the controversial Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system will be included in this continuation.
During the briefing, White House officials emphasized that burden sharing will play a major role in talks with all other countries moving forward. This was a recurring theme for President Trump on the campaign trail.
The official visit begins tomorrow night with cocktails and dinner in the State Dining Room of the White House. The following morning President Moon will be accompanied by Vice President Pence to lay a wreath at the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
Later Friday, South Korean President Moon will return to the White House for a one on one meeting with President Trump and a subsequent meeting between the respective executive cabinets. The official visit will conclude with a lunch between President Moon and the VPOTUS.