Former senior aides to Obama say this is a lie. Independent experts also say it is entirely baseless.
Facts First: There is no evidence that Obama ever sought a meeting with Kim Jong Un, let alone that he was “begging” for a meeting or seeking a meeting “constantly.”
Former Obama officials have vehemently rejected Trump’s claim. Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser to Obama, told CNN on Sunday: “There’s no mystery here: it’s just a lie with no supporting evidence and no basis in anything. It’s not even an exaggeration, it’s just not true.”
“This probably comes as no surprise, but there’s zero truth to Trump’s claim. It’s utterly fabricated garbage,” said Van Jackson, author of On the Brink: Trump, Kim, and the Threat of Nuclear War, who served as senior country director for Korea at the Department of Defense under Obama. “Obama never even deliberated on whether to meet Kim because circumstances were never appropriate. It was never in the conversation. I don’t always agree with Ben Rhodes’s judgments, but this is a factual issue and he’s right about this.”
We can’t know everything that occurred behind closed doors during Obama’s tenure. But experts on US relations with North Korea who did not serve in the Obama administration also said they were certain that Obama did not seek a meeting with Kim in any way.
“Though the Obama administration sporadically tried to restart negotiations, there was never discussion of a presidential summit. It would have been very much out of keeping with policy. Past administrations would not have considered a presidential summit before a major accomplishment had been made, and more likely at the end of a disarmament process,” said Adam Mount, director of the Defense Posture Project at the Federation of American Scientists. “The president (Trump) has invented this idea out of thin air for reasons passing understanding. If he’s trying to argue that Kim Jong Un likes him more, I for one can’t understand why he would take pride in that.”
Sung-Yoon Lee, a professor of Korean studies at Tufts University, said Trump has made multiple false or misleading claims about US-Korea relations. Given this record, Lee said, “I feel reasonably sure there is no one in this world who will credibly confirm that Obama sought a summit with Kim Jong Il or Kim Jong Un while he was in office.”
In a debate during the Democratic presidential primary in 2007, Obama famously said “I would” when asked if he would be willing to meet “separately, without precondition,” with the leaders of North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Syria and Venezuela. But he did not end up seeking such a meeting with either Kim.
The US and North Korea did agree to the so-called “Leap Day” deal in February 2012, in which North Korea agreed to suspend nuclear testing, long-range missile testing and uranium enrichment in exchange for US food aid. The deal failed within two months, and hopes for the resumption of the six-party talks were dashed.