After months of threats and insults directed at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that fueled fears of nuclear war, is a Nobel Peace Prize now in the cards for a more conciliatory Donald Trump?
That’s what South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said, suggesting the credit-hungry U.S. president “can take the Nobel Prize” — so long as the two Koreas achieve peace, the real prize for the North and South.
Moon made the comment Monday in response to a suggestion that he receive the award by the widow of late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 after his summit with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
Moon responded to the suggestion that he be given the Nobel by saying, “President Trump can take the Nobel Prize; the only thing we need is peace,” according to the South Korean presidential office.
The suggestion comes on the heels of Moon’s landmark summit with North Korea’s leader on Friday, at which the two pledged to end hostilities between their countries and work toward the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula. That summit was the first between the leaders of the two Koreas in more than a decade, and the first to be held in the South.
Trump is preparing for his own summit with Kim, which he said would take place in the next three to four weeks, possibly at the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas.
Trump has routinely boasted that he deserves credit for the emerging detente on the peninsula. Under the U.S.-led “maximum pressure” campaign, North Korea has been slapped with some of the toughest sanctions to date over its nuclear weapons program.
At a rally in Michigan on Friday, Trump supporters erupted in chants of “Nobel, Nobel, Nobel” as he lashed out at news organizations, which he said were not giving him sufficient credit for bringing a recalcitrant Kim to the negotiating table.
“What do you think President Trump had to do with it? I’ll tell you what. Like how about everything? And even President Moon says that and he’s been great,” Trump said.
But the U.S. leader’s string of bellicose threats directed at Kim and his country — including his vow to rain “fire and fury” on North Korea and to “totally destroy” the nation of 25 million people if it threatened the U.S. or its allies — gave rise to global fears of a bloody and possibly nuclear conflict.
In response to these fears, the leaders of U.S.-allied Japan and South Korea have sought to forge closer ties with the unpredictable Trump, and have also massaged his ego by crediting him for easing tensions with the North.
In January, Moon said Trump “deserves big credit for bringing about the inter-Korean talks. It could be a resulting work of the U.S.-led sanctions and pressure.”
And just last month, at a bilateral summit at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe showered praise on the U.S. leader for his role in the crisis.
“The situation surrounding North Korea, due to the decisive decision by President Trump on the first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit, is at a historical turning point,” Abe said.
Amid the fawning, some regional security experts have pointed out the Abe and Moon strategy of seemingly buttering up the U.S. president as a means of achieving their own goals.
“Does it really need to be said that this is obviously flattery, to which Trump is so vulnerable, in order to keep him tied to a diplomatic track with N Korea and thereby not start a war as he threatened to last year?” Robert Kelly, a North Korea expert and associate professor at Pusan National University in South Korea, tweeted Tuesday.
Others have suggested that Trump — maximum pressure and his unorthodox approach not withstanding — may just be in the right place at the right time.
“I appreciate that Donald Trump accepted the summit invite and continued the pressure campaign. But to give him credit based on those is like giving a broken clock credit for being right twice a day,” said Mintaro Oba, a former U.S. State Department official who worked on North Korean affairs.
“The broader truth is that it’s broken,” Oba said. “In Trump’s case, the broader context is a history of unhinged and reactive actions that dangerously escalated tensions on the Korean Peninsula before South Korean diplomacy changed the conversation.”
Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize just months into his presidency, an award many believed was premature, given that he had little to show for his peace initiatives beyond his soaring rhetoric on the campaign trail. That announcement also came as the U.S. was embroiled in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But it has also been widely seen as a political statement and repudiation of U.S. President George W. Bush’s two terms before Obama — one reason why the controversial and often outspoken Trump might not be in contention for the award.
A total of four U.S. presidents have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize: Obama, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter.
Trump’s chances may also be growing in the eyes of the public, with a British bookie setting the odds of him winning at 2:1, though Trump’s son Donald Jr. tweeted recently that “the globalist elite would never give him that win.”
If he were to oversee the verifiable dismantling of the North’s nuclear arms and missile programs and formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, Trump would claim an accomplishment that has eluded his predecessors.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has ran hot and cold toward Trump, said the U.S. leader was a serious contender for the award.
“It’s the biggest change since the end of the hostilities,” Graham said on “Fox News Friday.” “What happened? Donald Trump convinced North Korea and China he was serious about bringing about change.
“We’re not there yet, but if this happens, President Trump deserves the Nobel Peace Prize,” he said.
Still, much remains unsettled, and events could turn on Trump’s upcoming summit with Kim — if it is even held.
“There’s a good chance the Trump-Kim summit will be bust, and Trump is prone to rapidly change his mind and lose his temper,” Kelly wrote in a series of tweets. “If, post-summit, his belief that he may well win a Nobel keeps him from reverting to belligerence and threatening Korea with national catastrophe, so much the better.
“So fine, if this is the ego-balm needed to Trump from sliding back to ‘fire and fury’ and jeopardizing the whole region, give it to him.”