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A leading Korea expert says the Trump-Kim meeting should be canceled

Key Points
  • The U.S. president isn't prepared to negotiate with North Korea's Kim Jong Un, strategists argue.
  • Trump "doesn't know a great deal about Korea — we know that he doesn't read very much, he watches a lot of television and his national security staff is sort of in chaos right now," Robert Kelly, associate professor at Pusan National University, told CNBC.
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Why the proposed Trump-Kim summit should be cancelled: Professor

A looming face-to-face summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un should be canceled, according to a political scientist who said the U.S. leader isn't prepared for such high-stakes negotiations.

The meeting is simply too risky because Trump apparently has a limited knowledge of North Korea's complex politics, Robert Kelly, associate professor at Pusan National University, told CNBC.

Trump "doesn't know a great deal about Korea — we know that he doesn't read very much, he watches a lot of television and his national security staff is sort of in chaos right now," he said, referring to the recent appointment of National Security Adviser John Bolton.

In contrast, "the North Koreans have been working on this stuff for a long time, so they're going to come in there and know every single detail and they're going to be ready to negotiate down deep into the weeds," Kelly stated.

"The first thing Kim Jong Un is going to do in the room is give a 40-minute speech about U.S. war crimes going back to the Korean War," Kelly continued, posing the question of whether the president is "ready to sit there and listen" as Kim talks.

Donald Trump (l) and Kim Jung Un (r).
Getty Images

The two heads of states are supposed to meet around the end of May, but details about the date, time, location and other participants have yet to be revealed. It's not clear whether Bolton, who has called for preemptive military strikes on the rogue state, will be present in the room.

"The prospect of a Trump-Kim meeting would be less concerning if the president showed more command of the facts on the Korean Peninsula," Michael J. Green, a Georgetown University professor and senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote in a recent op-ed for Foreign Policy.

The process of negotiating with Pyongyang is full of traps, Green argued: "North Korean leaders have decades of experience trying to manipulate the nuanced arrangements associated with the [United Nations Security Council] mandate and U.S. alliances in Asia; so do some U.S. diplomats, but they will not likely be at center stage [at the meeting]."

Among the many demands Kim could make in exchange for a discussion on denuclearization, dismantling the American military presence in South Korea and halting U.S.-South Korean army drills could top the list.

Tricky points of discussion are typically worked out by lower-level diplomats ahead of diplomatic summits, according to Kelly: "But with only eight weeks to go, that means Donald Trump has to do a lot of the work directly in the meeting room and it's just not clear to me that the president has ever done anything like this before."