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White House Releases Commemorative Coin Ahead Of U.S.-North Korea Summit

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

If the June 12 meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim falls through, someone's going to have to figure out what to do with a bunch of leftover coins. The U.S. government already has minted commemorative coins for the occasion.

RICK MCCALLUM: It's an antique brass coin that has what's called a diamond-cut edge.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

That's Rick McCallum. He designs and sells custom coins in southern Arizona. He's seen a photograph of the Trump-Kim coin.

MCCALLUM: And it seems to be a very well-made. There's a bust of Kim Jong Un and bust of President Trump - President Trump on the left and Kim Jong Un on the right, facing each other. And they are three-dimensional figures rising out of the U.S. flag and the DPRK flag. I think it's a beautiful coin.

SHAPIRO: Beautiful is not the word everyone is using for the coin. Zack Beauchamp of Vox has written about aspects he finds troubling.

ZACK BEAUCHAMP: The first one is that it depicts the president of the United States and the leader of North Korea looking eye to eye at each other as if they're equals. And that raises two red flags. The first one is that we're immortalizing the leader of a repressive and brutal regime. That's one. And the second is what North Korea wants out of this summit, even independent of any tangible concession, is to be treated as a nuclear power and that the U.S. is forced to sit down with as an equal. And by depicting Kim and Trump as being at the same level, looking at each other, well, as equals, you're giving Kim what he wants even before the summit begins.

CORNISH: The Trump-Kim souvenir coin has other detractors. The Senate's top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, calls Kim a brutal dictator. He wants the White House to redo the coin and leave Kim's image off.

SHAPIRO: Besides the design, Zack Beauchamp notes another overarching issue.

BEAUCHAMP: This meeting hasn't happened yet, and the president is already making noise about canceling the meeting. That to me suggests that the biggest problem with this coin is that we have no idea whether or not it's ever going to happen.

SHAPIRO: This controversy made it into White House press secretary Sarah Sanders' briefing today. When a reporter asked whether the coin was premature, Sanders replied that the White House had nothing to do with it. She said these coins are designed and created by the White House Communications Agency, which is actually part of the military.

CORNISH: Should the summit fall through, the coin might become an embarrassment for the government. But it could be a bonanza on eBay.

SHAPIRO: A loss for world peace, perhaps, a gain for coin collectors.

(SOUNDBITE OF DANNY BROWN SONG, "DANCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.