Moon Jae-in

by Mark Lippert
Adam Ferguson for TIME

Moon Jae-in was quick to visit me in the hospital in Seoul after I was attacked by a knife-wielding pro–North Korean nationalist while serving as U.S. ambassador in 2015. Befitting his reputation, Moon, then the opposition leader, was compassionate and engaged. He shared with me a Korean proverb, “The ground hardens after the rain,” and we spoke of how crisis begets opportunity.

Following his election to the presidency in 2017, Moon has made dramatic moves with regard to North Korea: hosting Kim Jong Un’s sister at the Winter Olympics, agreeing to an inter-Korean summit and brokering what could be a first-ever U.S.–North Korea summit between President Trump and Kim. Moon must now navigate between the U.S. and North Korea, as well as regional rivalries, to rid Pyongyang of illegal nuclear weapons and missile programs.

The stakes could hardly be higher. Negotiations could easily break down, but resolving this intractable issue could help define the future of the Korean Peninsula, Asia and the world.

Lippert served as the U.S. ambassador to South Korea from 2014 to 2017

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