As President Trump gears up for his on-again June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, diplomats who have dealt with Pyongyang before say Trump and his team should be prepared for a strange and frustrating experience.
"There is a weirdness," said former Defense Secretary William Perry, who served in the Clinton administration and has negotiated with North Korea several times. "The weirdest is they sincerely believe that the Kim family are gods. There is a reverence for their leaders that is hard to understand. It hangs over everything."
American diplomats who have talked with North Korea told Politico the Trump team can expect Kim's delegation to come extremely well-prepared and knowledgeable but stuck in rigid negotiating positions. While Kim himself has the authority to make decisions in the moment, lesser officials will not. "Their negotiators have no leeway," explained Michael Green, who negotiated with North Korea for the George W. Bush administration. "They stick with the talking points, and if you surprise them with a much more flexible position, they stick to the pre-programmed talking points, accusing you of being hard-line and having a hostile policy."
Cultural miscommunication is also a real risk. Former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Christopher Hill described using the phrase "early harvest items" to describe "common steps to build mutual trust quickly," but his North Korean conversation partners took it literally to mean harvesting crops early to avoid famine.
Read the full Politico analysis here.