[The Nation] Ray of hope

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Mar 12, 2018 - 17:54
  • Updated : Mar 12, 2018 - 17:54
Just a few weeks ago, the United States and North Korea were threatening to wipe each other off the face of Earth.

Today, there is talk of an upcoming meeting, possibly in May, between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

It will be, indeed, an unprecedented encounter. The invitation came from Pyongyang via South Korea’s national security adviser Chung Eui-young, after his recent visit to North Korea. Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile program will be on the agenda for the meeting with Trump, said Chung, who did not elaborate on what the conditions were, if any. After a yearlong spitting contest between the two leaders, talk of a meeting between them comes as a breath of fresh air.

But the world should not lose sight of the fact that the outcome is still very unpredictable. South Korea gave some credit to Trump’s “leadership” and Washington’s pressure on Pyongyang to change course. But Trump should not let these accolades inflate his already oversized ego; China, the United Nations, and the international community also have played an important role.

Moreover, this change of tune could very well be Pyongyang’s plan to turn the tables on the US. There are also elements in the US establishment who are very hawkish and the offer to meet does not alter the ground realities. North Korea has yet to say anything about rolling back or ending its nuclear weapons program. Everything the regime in Pyongyang has done has been to ensure its own survival. So, to imagine Pyongyang winding up its nuclear weapons project, the most important card it has, is still a pipe dream.

Kim’s unpredictability should not be forgotten. He has not hesitated to eliminate even his close relatives to protect his reclusive regime. The upcoming meeting with Trump should not become an excuse to lift the sanctions on North Korea. For this to happen, the United Nations and the Trump administration will have to make sure that North Korea lives up to its end of the deal as prescribed in the sanctions.

The problem for Trump is that his State Department is depleted of so many diplomats because he has scant regard for their knowledge, skills and expertise.

He thought his embattled son-in-law Jared Kushner and his cronies were capable of handling foreign affairs. But it didn’t take long to find out that Kushner and company were out of their depth. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was right in reminding Trump of the need to maintain pressure on North Korea.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, while welcoming “any dialogue with North Korea,” also warned that “North Korea has a history of making agreements and then failing to honor them.”

The stakes are high and there is a good possibility that Trump will be taken for a ride by the young Kim. In that instance, Trump will only have himself to blame, having chased skilled diplomats away because he thinks he knows best -- about everything.

The two sides are a long way from serious negotiations. A normal negotiation usually starts out small at the technical level before reaching the summit for the signing ceremony and photo ops. But the upcoming meeting in May is going the opposite way. Trump cannot afford to mess this one up like he has done with NATO and other long-standing American allies.

Once again Trump has undermined his top diplomat. Even as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had said negotiations with North Korea were still a long way off, Trump announced within hours that he would meet Kim in May. One has to wonder if he ever listens to his point man for international relations. If he does not change his prodigal ways, Kim could make him look like a fool.

Editorial by the Nation

(Asia News Network)