SINGAPORE – They came by the scores of employees, bodyguards and diplomats in tow: Donald Trump from Washington, Kim Jong-Un from Pyongyang. But for the better part of an hour, the two men square off one-on-one, just to get a few of the translators, the concern about the risk of holding such a monumental meeting with hardly anyone to bear witness.
After greeting each other for the first time on Tuesday in front of the reporters, the American president and the North Korean leader will withdraw on Singapore, Sentosa Island for about 45 minutes, while their entourages waiting in the neighborhood. The intimate huddle will precede a larger meeting and a lunch attended by Trump’s chief of staff, the national security adviser and minister of foreign affairs, the White House said, along with a number of their North Korean colleagues.
Word of the private tete-a-tete on Monday immediately unleashed a torrent of criticism on the social media of the national security veterans. After all, the other tools are present in high-stakes meetings — particularly those with opponents as the leader of North Korea — offers a president with a certain degree of protection, through which its staff members on hand to take accurate notes.
In the absence of a detailed historical account and observation of the witnesses, the president of the partner could leave the meeting and the wrong idea of what happened, creating a he-said-he-said showdown that could turn into a major problem for the AMERICAN leader.
“Good idea,” tweeted Paul Haenle, former China director of the White House, the National Security Council in the Obama and George W. Bush administration. “I see the Trumpet give much for little in return.”
Barry McCaffrey, a retired U.S. Army general, the so-called one-on-one is an “unacceptable danger to AMERICAN national security.” He took to Twitter to say that the Secretary of state, Mike Pompeo and Minister of Defense of Jim Mattis should oppose the meeting “in writing.”
“NSC must TRANSCRIPT of all interactions with the brutal, nuclear-armed dictator, McCaffrey wrote, referring to the National Security Council. On the game, he said, “America’s safety.”
Despite the fear, there is a precedent for presidents that find themselves with foreign leaders — including enemies — with only the interpreters, as a witness. Note-takers are not essential: In the past, interpreters have fulfilled that role by drawing on their simultaneous translation of notes with an official, historical record.
The former President Barack Obama was known to occasionally hold spontaneous conversations with leaders on the sidelines of major global summits with only their translators at their sides. Early in the Trump presidency, he raised eyebrows when he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a conference in Germany only with a Kremlin translator present.
On former President Ronald Reagan’s first meeting with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Geneva, Switzerland, in November 1985, the two men met alone with only reliable translators. Only 15 minutes had been assigned for the discussion, but it went on for a full hour.
What’s more, the official U. S. “memorandum of conversation,” or “MemCom,” of that meeting was written by the old AMERICAN Russian-English interpreter Dmitri Zarechnak, according to a copy of the document posted by the National Security Archive at The George Washington University. The MemCom identifies Reagan and Gorbachev and their translators, Zarechnak and Yuri Uspensky, as the only participants.
One question unanswered ahead of the Kim-Jong-Un-summit: Who will translate for Trump?
The White House would not release the names ahead of Tuesday’s summit. But Pompeo’s two meetings with Kim in Pyongyang earlier this year, is the translator role was filled by Andrew Kim, a Korean-American and ex-CIA Seoul station chief. Pompeo brought him back to the CIA last year for the run of the Korea Mission Center has played a central role in the run-up to the top.
Andrew Kim was spotted by a reporter from the Associated Press Monday afternoon at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore, where the Trumpet is staying. For whatever reason, he was not listed as a member of the official U.S. delegation to the Kim Jong-Un summit.
Lee reported from Washington.