Donald Trump's 'greed' for Nobel prize fuels fears in South Korea of risky concessions

Julian Ryall
U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are seen before a family photo during the G20 summit in Buenos Aires - REUTERS

One of South Korea’s leading newspapers has accused Donald Trump of “trying to use the North Korean nuclear crisis to feed his greed for the Nobel Peace Prize”. 

The hard-hitting editorial in The Korea Herald on Wednesday criticised the president for “twisting the arm” of Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, to nominate him for the award and warned that the upcoming summit in Hanoi with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, “could end up becoming a geopolitical performance aimed at dazzling the Nobel committee”. 

And there are serious implications for South Korea’s security, it added. 

“If Kim Jong-un sits down with Trump with little preparation from the US and flatters Trump enough, South Korea’s national security will plunge to the bottom of the priority list.

“Who then will prevent South Korea from becoming hostage of a nuclear-armed North Korea?”

Kim Jae-chang, a former general in the South Korean Army and joint chair of The Council on Korea-US Security Studies, expressed “serious concern” that Mr Trump will make concessions at the summit in Hanoi that could imperil the South.

“Kim Jong-un has no intention of dismantling his nuclear weapons”, he told The Telegraph. “I am personally very worried that Mr Trump will gift the North something that endangers our security and not get anything meaningful in return”.

Mr Kim added that he believes the North Korean leader remains true to the ideals of his father and grandfather - central to which is the reunification of the Korean Peninsula under Pyongyang’s control - and will use the fact that Mr Trump only has a limited time still in office as leverage. 

“As well as the Nobel Peace Prize, Mr Trump is facing re-election and probably believes that a breakthrough here will earn him domestic support”, he said. “But from South Korea’s perspective, there needs to be a meaningful return for any agreement”. 

Song Young-chae, a professor at Seoul’s Sangmyung University and a human rights activist, said he is unable to trust either Mr Trump or Mr Kim, and “can only hope” that that the US president puts the security of the peninsula above personal aggrandisement. 

“I want to believe that Mr Trump is going to Hanoi with the aim of finding a solution to the problems of the peninsula because we have been waiting for such a long time”, he said. “But it is difficult to have trust in either side”. 

Representatives of the US and North Korea were meeting in Hanoi on Thursday in an attempt to confirm the agenda for the two-day summit, which is scheduled to begin next Wednesday. 

The US has reportedly proposed establishing liaison offices in the two nations’ capitals, a formal declaration of the end of the 1950-’53 Korean War and permitting package tours to the North’s Mount Kumgang resort to resume. In return, it is calling for the North to demolish its Yongbyon nuclear facility and the Tongchang-ri missile testing base. 

North Korea, however, is standing firm on its demand that international sanctions be lifted. 

It is not clear how far apart the two sides are on Washington’s original demand for complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile programmes. 

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