But when a high-level South Korean delegation arrived at the White House on Thursday afternoon for two days of meetings over the North Korea threat, one person swooped in to fill the vacuum: President Trump.
In a stunning turn of events, Trump personally intervened in a security briefing intended for his top deputies, inviting the South Korean officials into the Oval Office, where he agreed on the spot to a historic but exceedingly risky summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. He then orchestrated a dramatic public announcement on the driveway outside the West Wing broadcast live on cable networks.
The news shocked Washington, Seoul and everywhere in between. But inside the White House, the president — whose exchange of taunts and threats with Kim has set Northeast Asia on edge over a potential military confrontation for months — was said to be reveling in his big reveal, which overshadowed the growing scandal surrounding his alleged affair with a pornographic film star and concerns with tariffs he announced earlier in the day.
Trump’s personal involvement in the White House’s deliberations over the world’s most serious and vexing security situation has placed a president who considers himself a master dealmaker into the most fraught faceoff of his 71 years. A breakthrough that would reduce Pyongyang’s nuclear threat would be a legacy-defining achievement. A stalemate that gives Kim a photo op for nothing in return could fracture U.S. alliances and be seen as a devastating embarrassment.