With less than a month until President Donald Trump’s supposed summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, White House aides say the president has not allocated time in his schedule to prepare, according to TIME.
“He doesn’t think he needs to,” one senior official familiar with the situation told TIME.
Aides said they intended to brief Trump on different scenarios that could play out during the meeting with Kim, but a detailed plan to prepare the president has yet to surface.
Foreign policy experts have also expressed worry that Trump will not be prepared enough for the first meeting between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader.
“These things are just not going to be wrapped up in nine weeks,” Robert Kelly of Pusan University said recently at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. “They’re just not. And the president is not going to do the reading. We know he’s not. It’s obvious, he’s just going to wing it. And you can’t wing it on something this complicated.”
The historic summit comes at an unpredictable time for the Korean Peninsula. On Wednesday, North Korea announced that in addition to its cancellation of a high-level meeting with South Korean officials, it would reconsider meeting with the US due to Washington’s insistence on scrapping its nuclear program.
The sudden shift in tone, which many North Korea watchers anticipated and considered typical of Pyongyang, effectively chilled the warmed relations since the regime’s participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
“We haven’t seen anything, we haven’t heard anything,” Trump said to reporters on Wednesday. “We will see what happens.”
“We’re still hopeful that the meeting will take place and we’ll continue down that path, but at the same time we’ve been prepared that these could be tough negotiations,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said to Fox News, in response to North Korea’s statement. “The president is ready if the meeting takes place. If it doesn’t, we’ll continue the maximum pressure campaign that’s been ongoing.”
But the importance and urgency in preparing for the summit — factors which are emphasized by foreign policy experts — is already obfuscated by the uncertainty of what a successful outcome looks like.
Summits have been typically held at the conclusion of a series of negotiations between diplomats; however, Trump’s willingness to meet with Kim prior to lengthy discussions has upended diplomatic norms and confounded experts.
Although critics argue Trump has not done enough to prepare, some argue the criticism surrounding the White House’s preparations are unwarranted: “There is a robust, whole-of-government effort underway to prepare for President Trump’s upcoming meeting,” a White House official said to TIME.
Part of this strategy appears to be other US officials rising to the call. In addition to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s two trips to North Korea in recent weeks, US intelligence officials have already conducted and prepared discussions with their North Korean counterparts.
The White House also began taking measures to fill critical positions that were vacant for over a year, including taking steps to nominate US Navy Adm. Harry Harris for US ambassador to South Korea, and lifting the State Department’s controversial hiring freeze.
Trump, who self-admittedly takes a more unorthodox approach to foreign policy than his predecessors, may be heavily relying on intelligence officials and the State Department to carry him to the finish line. These officials, such as Charge d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Seoul Marc Knapper, have gained the confidence of foreign policy experts and former State Department officials.
Whether or not Trump heeds the advice of these experts, however, remains the concern.