Trump's decision to impose duties on up to $60 billion worth of Chinese imports, for example, comes at a time when Washington needs Beijing's help to rein in a nuclear-armed Pyongyang, said Wendy Sherman, a former under secretary of state for political affairs at the U.S. State Department who was the lead American negotiator for the Iran nuclear agreement.
And the president's move to replace H.R. McMaster with policy hawk Bolton, who Sherman described as "a man who has never seen a war he does not want to wage," could add more risk into the mix, especially ahead of a historic summit under consideration for Trump and Kim.
In the past, Bolton has recommended scrapping the Iran nuclear deal and justified the need for U.S. strikes against North Korea.
Bolton's hawkish views could encourage Trump to do what he wants on North Korea and Iran, said Sherman, who is currently a non-resident senior fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School and a senior counselor at consultancy Albright Stonebridge Group.
"There is an enormous amount at stake here and my greatest concern is that the president is dealing with each of these pieces in silos, without understanding how they all interconnect and how we have to work out a comprehensive strategy," she said.
Defense Secretary James Mattis may try to ease tensions behind the scene but it's unclear how successful he may be, Sherman continued.
Trump has set a mid-May deadline for European powers to meet his demands on revisions to an agreement that would place limits on Tehran's nuclear program.
French President Emmanuel Macron's April visit to Washington will be "crucial" to the fate of the deal, Sherman said, noting that Macron appears to get along with Trump.