Foreign Policy Digital

Here’s Hoping Trump-Kim Isn’t Like Kennedy-Khrushchev

The inauspicious history of inexperienced presidents personally negotiating with confident adversaries.

In one sense, President Donald Trump’s decision to negotiate directly with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is unprecedented: The heads of state of their respective countries have never previously met in any forum. But Trump isn’t the first U.S. president to meet one-on-one with a foreign adversary in a high-stakes summit. History offers plenty of examples Trump would do well to study.

Presidents, it turns out, rarely achieve very much in such negotiations. Most often, these meetings unsettle traditional allies and disappoint eager citizens. They rarely produce breakthroughs. And the biggest risk is that an acrimonious and ill-prepared meeting can push the two sides closer to war.

That is what happened in June 1961, when a tough-talking and impatient new American president, John F. Kennedy, traveled to Vienna to meet with a wily and well-rehearsed Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev.

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