TOKYO — If anyone were to win the Nobel Peace Prize for the current effort to solve the North Korean nuclear problem, it should be President Trump. That’s what South Korea’s president said Monday when it was suggested that he himself should be in line for the award.
President Moon Jae-in has gone out of his way to flatter Trump and credit him for creating the environment that has brought about the remarkable diplomatic rapprochement now unfolding.
But even by Moon’s standards, the latest remarks were really something.
They came after Lee Hee-ho, the widow of late South Korean president Kim Dae-jung, sent Moon a message congratulating him for Friday’s summit with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un.
The day-long summit was filled with warm encounters and ended with a joint declaration from the two sides pledging to bring about a formal end to the Korean War and work toward the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula.
Moon deserves the Nobel Prize for Peace for his efforts, Lee wrote in her note.
She would know a thing or two about this. Her husband organized the first inter-Korean summit, in 2000, and won the Nobel Peace Prize for it. Kim Dae-jung’s achievement was rather marred, however, when it emerged that he had arranged for the North Korean leader at the time, Kim Jong Il, to receive $500 million for participating.
Lee traveled to Pyongyang in 2011 for Kim Jong Il’s funeral and met his son Kim Jong Un — briefly — at that time.
Moon told his aides about her note during a meeting Monday. Then he added: “President Trump should win the Nobel Peace Prize. The only thing we need is peace.”
The remark was reported by local media and confirmed by South Korea’s presidential Blue House.
Moon’s approval ratings — already defying the South Korean tendency to fall off a cliff the moment a president is elected — have risen further after the summit.
A Realmeter poll conducted over the weekend found that 70 percent of those surveyed approved of the way the president was managing state affairs. Meanwhile, a poll from lesser-known Hangil Research put Moon’s support at an astounding 86 percent. More than 88 percent of the respondents to that survey approved of the joint statement that resulted from Friday’s summit.
As Moon tries to get Trump to buy into diplomatic efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue — and dismiss suggestions that military action might be the answer — he has sought to pass all the credit to Trump.
In January, after Kim Jong Un said he was willing to talk to South Korea, Trump tweeted that this was because he, the American president, had been “firm, strong and willing to commit our total ‘might’ against the North.”
Asked a few days later whether this was correct, Moon said it was.
“I give President Trump huge credit for bringing about the inter-Korean talks, and I’d like to thank him for that,” Moon said at a New Year’s news conference in Seoul.
It turned out that Trump had asked Moon to credit him publicly for creating the environment for the talks, people familiar with the conversation told The Washington Post at the time.
It’s an approach that has been shared across East Asia.
But Moon particularly needs Trump to feel invested in the nascent efforts to engage the North Korean leader.
Moon hosted Kim on the southern side of the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas on Friday for a summit designed to lay the groundwork for a meeting between Trump and Kim.
The timing and location have not been set, but the meeting is expected to take place in late May or early June.
Moon is set to travel to Washington in mid-May, immediately after a trilateral meeting with Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on May 9, to brief Trump on his own meeting with Kim.