Trump-Kim summit is a reality show that will benefit both leaders, says expert on the Koreas

Key Points
  • President Trump announced plans to meet with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12 — a first for a U.S. president.
  • But Sung-Yoon Lee, an expert on the Koreas and a professor at Tufts University, likens the summit to a reality show.
  • "North Korea will threaten to walk away, thus painting the United States as the petulant party not interested in genuine peace and reconciliation," he says. Meanwhile, Trump will come out looking like a "wizard dealmaker."
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The U.S.-North Korea summit will be a political win for both countries, said Sung-Yoon Lee, an expert on the Koreas — but not in ways that benefit the United States.

"North Korea is very crafty," Lee, who is the Kim Koo-Korea Foundation professor in Korean studies and assistant professor at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, told CNBC.

"They will play this game," he said Thursday on "Power Lunch." "They will say strangely pleasing things to President Trump. The danger is that the Trump administration, including President Trump, will presume that maybe this time around, North Korea will comply."

On Thursday, President Donald Trump tweeted that he will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12. The summit would be the first ever meeting between a sitting U.S. president and the head of North Korea.

Lee predicted the talks will likely center around denuclearization and sanctions on the rogue country. So far, he said, "the Trump Administration is saying all the right things," regarding its stance on not easing sanctions until North Korea takes concrete steps to dismantle its nuclear program.

In the process, Trump will look like a "wizard dealmaker," Lee said, who was able to achieve something no other sitting president has thus far been able to do.

But, Lee said, the meeting will be more of a reality show than an actual negotiation.

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.
Getty Images

"North Korea will try to draw out this negotiation process," Lee said. "Not really working toward an ultimate resolution and for full denuclearization, but to engage the United States in a drawn-out, never-ending process. And in the meantime, North Korea will threaten to walk away, thus painting the United States as the petulant party not interested in genuine peace and reconciliation."

He pointed out that other U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have met with Kim Jong Un in the past and were "impressed" and even remarked on how "not crazy" and "well-informed" the dictator was.

"And they come away thinking they've gained some deep knowledge, understanding of the nature of the regime by virtue of their own charisma and intelligence," Lee said.

But he said they were wrong, warning the Trump administration that the North Korean leader is a "murderous tyrant."

"There are many traps along the way," Lee said of the upcoming meeting. "I think it will be very difficult for the United States not to give North Korea some concessions and to relax some sanctions."