Set against a tense, eerie silence in the landmine-riddled mountains separating South and North Korea, the Demilitarized Zone may be the highest-stakes negotiation site on earth. It’s not the sort of place for mistakes.
It is the latest spot where Ivanka Trump has tried her hand at statecraft.
On Sunday, Ms. Trump, the president’s elder daughter, used an impromptu meeting between her father and Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, to further slip into the role of unofficial spokeswoman and budding stateswoman for the Trump administration. With her husband, fellow senior adviser Jared Kushner, at her side, Ms. Trump delivered news interviews, posed for photos and attended a closed-door meeting between her father and Mr. Kim.
Earlier in the day, Ms. Trump had repeated what her father has often said about dealing with the North: that it would be free of crippling sanctions and clear for an economic boom if Mr. Kim were to dismantle his nuclear program. Scant evidence suggests that Mr. Kim is taking the steps to do this, but on Sunday, two Trumps rewarded him with a visit.
“We are on the precipice of ushering in potentially a golden era for the Korean Peninsula,” Ms. Trump told Bloomberg News in the hours before her father took the historic step of crossing into the North. But by the time she emerged from the closed-door meeting between the leaders hours later, she only had one word for journalists about her encounter with North Korea.
She called it “surreal.”
Others following along called it inappropriate.
“Ivanka Trump is not on the National Security Council — she is not an adviser on the issues being discussed,” Michael A. McFaul, an ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama, said of Ms. Trump’s presence. “So her presence undermines the professional look of the Trump delegation, both to other countries and to national security professionals in the Trump administration.”
President Trump has come under fire for making family members part of his staff since the beginning of his administration, and then for clinging more tightly to them in a White House racked by turnover. Mr. Kushner alone has overseen portfolios ranging from the federal government’s outdated technology to peace in the Middle East. But for Ms. Trump, 37, the visit to Asia over the past week represented a prominent step onto a bigger stage.
She appeared ready to assert herself from the start of the trip. She was the most visible woman from the Trump administration to go. Her stepmother, the first lady Melania Trump, stayed behind in Washington, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the former White House press secretary and a fixture of recent overseas trips, had just stepped down.
So at the summit of the Group of 20 economic powers in Osaka, Japan — the original purpose of the trip before Mr. Trump threw out a Twitter invitation to meet Mr. Kim at the Demilitarized Zone — Ms. Trump was repeatedly flanked by her father and a roster of world leaders, including Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan, and Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
Observers and critics used a snippet of digital footage as a way to show that she might be out of her depth: A short video posted to Instagram by the office of Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, showed Ms. Trump in conversation with Theresa May, the departing prime minister of Britain, and Christine Lagarde, the International Monetary Fund managing director, as Mr. Macron and Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, listened.
In the clip, Ms. Trump seemed to be looking to find a place to jump into this diplomatic game of double Dutch. First Mrs. May spoke: “As soon as you charge them with that economic aspect of it, a lot of people start listening who otherwise wouldn’t listen.”
And then Ms. Trump jumped in: “And the same with the defense side of it, in terms of the whole business that’s been, sort of, male-dominated.”
Ms. Lagarde, who was standing next to the president’s daughter, swiveled her head and blinked several times as she listened.
Ms. Trump has made international women’s empowerment a cornerstone of her work in the White House. In February, she unveiled the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, a program meant to bring economic security to 50 million women across the world by 2025. In recent weeks, she has crisscrossed the country to bring attention to the Trump administration’s effort to bolster work force development. And in Osaka this weekend, she told world leaders that women should be at the heart of any economic agenda.
Still, the video posted by the French led to rampant discussion online about which doors had been opened for Ms. Trump because of her proximity to her father, and whether she should be engaging with heads of state at a diplomatic event. Among those criticizing her access was Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York.
“It may be shocking to some, but being someone’s daughter actually isn’t a career qualification,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. “It hurts our diplomatic standing when the President phones it in & the world moves on.”
On Sunday, a White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal conversations, pushed back at the characterization that Ms. Trump had interjected or annoyed others in the conversation — particularly Ms. Lagarde, who the official said had, like the others, been attending a women’s empowerment event where Ms. Trump had been invited to speak when the interaction was filmed.
That official said Mr. Trump had requested that his daughter accompany him to several G20 events, and even delayed the start of one so he would not miss her giving an introductory speech. The president keeps the counsel of Ms. Trump and Mr. Kushner closer than anyone, the official said.
A White House spokeswoman, Jessica Ditto, called the video clip a “misrepresentation” and the criticism around it “absolutely pathetic” in an email.
Gone are the days when Ms. Trump and Mr. Kushner kept relatively low profiles inside the West Wing, grappling with waves of bad press as they sought to establish their profiles behind the scenes. And gone are the days when senior aides, such as John F. Kelly, the former chief of staff, tried to curb their influence.
Ms. Trump’s participation in the G20 trip illustrated just how unchecked her ascent in the White House has been in recent months, and how few people who might have raised doubts remain.
If the president has any concern about his daughter playing diplomat, it didn’t show on this trip: During a meeting for troops at a military base outside of Seoul, South Korea, the president introduced his daughter alongside Mike Pompeo, his secretary of state.
“She’s going to steal the show,” Mr. Trump said. “She’ll steal it.”
Glancing at his secretary of state and his daughter, Mr. Trump also offered his thoughts about her appearance: “Beauty and the beast, Mike,” he added.