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Trump's Personal Approach To Policy On Display Ahead Of N. Korea Summit

President Trump leaves after a speech from the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House Tuesday.
Saul Loeb
AFP/Getty Images
President Trump leaves after a speech from the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House Tuesday.

President Trump says he will greet three Americans released from North Korea when they land in the U.S. early on Thursday.

Trump tweeted out the news exactly a week after he first hinted on Twitter about the possible release of the detainees, urging the public to "stay tuned."

Like much of Trump's foreign policy, the messaging around the released Americans has mostly come from Trump himself.

Trump's hands-on approach to diplomacy will be put to the test in the coming weeks as he prepares to hold an unprecedented summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un.

The return of the Americans is a victory for the United States and for Trump, as the administration heads into talks with North Korea.

While Trump has left open the possibility that the negotiations may fail, he's also raised the stakes by placing himself in the center of this complicated diplomatic maneuvering.

If the talks do not go well, Trump would likely face the political heat.

Instead of depending on his diplomats to convey his positions, Trump has often taken to Twitter to make his feelings on various international matters known.

He even publicly contradicted his former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on North Korea. Back in October, before the recent overtures between the U.S. and North Korea, Trump tweeted that he would not even bother with negotiations with Kim.

Now, the U.S. and North Korea are on better terms, but Trump has consistently faulted past presidents for failing to stop North Korea's nuclear program.

He says it's now up to him to solve the problem, leaving little room for error.

"You had various administrations, which left me a mess," Trump said last September regarding North Korea. "But, I'll fix the mess."

For Trump, politics is almost always personal and he has credited his warm rapport with China's President Xi Jinping with helping to bring North Korea to the table.

"I have a very excellent, as you know, relationship with President Xi," Trump said last month. "And I think that relationship is very important as to what's happening with North Korea."

Relying too heavily on his ability to bond with foreign leaders could pose risks for Trump, though.

"Believing in personal relations is one of the classic errors in foreign policy and I hope President Trump does not fall into that trap," said Angelo Codevilla, a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute.

Codevilla says personal connections will not supplant foreign leaders' interest in advancing their countries' agendas. When it comes to North Korea, Codevilla warned that Trump should be careful not to make concessions without securing actual commitments from Pyongyang.

Patrick Cronin, of the Center for a New American Security, said it makes sense that Trump would take center stage ahead of the high-profile meeting with Kim, but that ultimately what happens after the meeting will be more important.

"You can not stop there. That's the part that's supposed to catalyze a diplomatic process and then the hard work really begins," Cronin said.

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Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.