Posted tagged ‘North Korea – negotiations’

U.S. moves ships, bombers toward Korea ahead of Winter Olympics

January 15, 2018

U.S. moves ships, bombers toward Korea ahead of Winter Olympics, CBS News, January 15, 2018

Aircraft carriers, virtually impervious to any attack the North could mount, are floating platforms for sustained air assaults, while the F-35 fighters could be a key part of any potential strike on Kim Jong Un himself.

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TOKYO — The U.S. is beefing up its presence around the Korean Peninsula ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics by deploying stealth bombers, at least one extra aircraft carrier and a new amphibious assault ship to the region. Coming after Washington agreed to postpone massive annual military maneuvers with South Korea until after the Games, North Korea says the U.S. is trying to put a chill on its renewed talks with Seoul.

“Such moves are an unpardonable military provocation chilling the atmosphere for improved inter-Korean relations,” the North’s ruling party said in a commentary published over the weekend.

Representatives of both Koreas held a second round of talks Monday near the Demilitarized Zone to try to pave the way for a North Korean delegation to join the Pyeongchang Games.

The U.S. has officially welcomed the talks and the moves represent routine training and scheduled upgrades, according to U.S. military officials. Tensions remain high and the military deployments are significant.

(Video at the link. –DM)

CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy reported that the meetings were a fairly stunning turn of events; the South has been trying to engage North Korea for months, but Kim Jong Un’s regime wasn’t interested in talking.

Last week, the Pacific Air Forces announced three B-2 “Spirit” stealth bombers with approximately 200 personnel have been deployed from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to the Pacific island of Guam.

The statement said the deployment is intended to provide leaders with “deterrent options to maintain regional stability.”

But the Guam deployment hits an especially sore nerve and plays on a key vulnerability for Pyongyang, which is probably the message Washington had in mind as it seeks to make sure nothing happens during the Olympics and also let Pyongyang know its decision to postpone the exercises is not a sign of weakness.

Last year, flights by B-1B bombers from Guam to the airspace around Korea were a major flashpoint, prompting a warning from North Korea that it had drawn up a plan to target the waters around the island with a missile strike that it could carry out anytime Kim gave the order. The B-2 is more threatening.

It’s the most advanced bomber in the Air Force and, unlike the B-1B, can carry nuclear weapons. It’s also the only known aircraft that can drop the Air Force’s biggest bomb, the 14,000-kilogram, about 30,000-pound, FGBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator.

The “MOP,” capable of penetrating deep into the ground to destroy reinforced tunnels and bunkers, was explicitly designed with North Korea in mind.

(Video at the link — DM)

The B-2 deployment came just days after the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier departed for the western Pacific in what the Navy called a regularly scheduled deployment. South Korean media reports say the carrier and its strike group will reach waters near the Korean Peninsula ahead of the start of the Games on Feb. 9.

The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, whose home port is just south of Tokyo in Yokosuka, is also in the region, and North Korea has accused the U.S. of planning to send another carrier, the USS John Stennis from Bremerton, Washington.

The Marines announced on Sunday the arrival in southern Japan of the USS Wasp, an upgraded amphibious assault ship that can carry troops and launch the corps’ new F-35B stealth fighters. It can carry 30-plus aircraft, including the F-35s, which are designed for vertical takeoffs and landings.

The ships and bombers could figure largely in a U.S. response to any military emergencies during the Games. North Korea may view them as a greater and more imminent threat.

Aircraft carriers, virtually impervious to any attack the North could mount, are floating platforms for sustained air assaults, while the F-35 fighters could be a key part of any potential strike on Kim Jong Un himself.

Congress ignores Trump’s deadline on Iran nuclear deal

December 12, 2017

Congress ignores Trump’s deadline on Iran nuclear deal, Washington Times December 11, 2017

President Trump said on Oct. 13 that Iran is not living up to the “spirit” of the nuclear deal that it signed in 2015. (Associated Press/File)

Congress is about to miss what was widely seen as a deadline to deal with President Trump’s demands for a harder line on the Iran nuclear deal, failing to agree on new sanctions against Tehran and punting the future of the deal back to Mr. Trump.

A Republican legislative push to establish new “triggers” that could reimpose harsh sanctions on Iran lifted under the Obama-era deal has gone nowhere ahead of Tuesday — the end of a 60-day unofficial deadline set by the administration for Capitol Hill to weigh in on the situation after Mr. Trump declared he could no longer certify that the accord was in the U.S. national interest.

Congressional aides say lawmakers still have time to propose something before Mr. Trump is mandated to decide again whether to weigh in on the deal, but White House aides say the president is rankled by the lack of progress on Capitol Hill and likely will pull the United States out of the deal entirely when it comes up for review on Jan. 13.

In October, Mr. Trump called on Congress and American allies party to the 2015 accord — including Britain, France and Germany — to propose ways to address what he called the deal’s “serious flaws,” including its failure to reimpose sanctions should Iran continue to carry out ballistic missile tests in violation of existing U.N. Security Council resolutions. Russia and China also signed the accord and, to date, none of the other signatories has followed the U.S. lead in trying to overhaul the agreement.

U.N. monitors have also repeatedly said Tehran is honoring the letter of the 2015 agreement in curtailing its suspect nuclear programs.

“Come January, the president may be extremely frustrated that neither Congress nor the Europeans have responded to his request for ways to fix the deal,” Mark Dubowitz, an analyst on Iran sanctions and CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said in an interview. “It’s entirely possible at that time that the president will walk away from the deal.”

According to a law enacted by Congress in 2015, the president must certify every 90 days that Iran is honoring the deal and that it is in the U.S. national interest. Mr. Trump, in the early days of his administration, twice formally certified Iran’s compliance, but he clearly chafed at seeming to endorse an agreement that he harshly criticized on the campaign trail last year.

He made clear his unhappiness when announcing his Iran deal decision two months ago.

“In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated,” Mr. Trump said on Oct. 13. The deal “is under continuous review, and our participation can be canceled by me, as president, at any time.”

Some of the president’s top aides, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, have advocated staying in the deal out of concern about the negative effects an American pullout could have on Middle East security and on U.S. allies that remain committed to the deal.

The Obama administration strongly backed the agreement, which gave major sanctions relief to Iran in exchange for limits to its nuclear programs. For decades before the accord, the Islamic republic was suspected of developing nuclear weapons in violation of U.N. resolutions.

Legislative fix

Critics say the restrictions on Tehran will expire over the coming decade and that Iran has not moderated its policies in other areas the way President Obama and other supporters of the deal had hoped.

Mr. Trump moved in October to decertify the deal but stopped short of fully pulling Washington out of the agreement. Instead, he called on lawmakers to come up with legislative fixes “to strengthen enforcement, prevent Iran from developing an … intercontinental ballistic missile and make all restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activity permanent under U.S. law.”

Several senior administration officials told reporters on background ahead of Mr. Trump’s announcement in October that the White House was giving Congress 60 days to deliver on such legislation, but congressional aides argued Monday that the president never put a hard deadline on the request.

Aides to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, say he is negotiating with key lawmakers such as Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, the panel’s ranking Democrat, and Sen. Tom Cotton, the Arkansas Republican who is one of the most prominent critics of the deal on Capitol Hill, to meet Mr. Trump’s demands for legislative action.

“Sen. Corker remains engaged in productive discussions with Sen. Cardin, Sen. Cotton and the administration about the appropriate path forward,” Micah Johnson, a spokeswoman for Mr. Corker, said Monday.

If the legislation comes to the fore and passes before Jan. 13 — an unlikely scenario given the limited number of congressional working days until then — there are concerns about how U.S. allies in Europe who signed the nuclear accord would react.

Analysts say any legislation calling for a reimposition of sanctions on Iran could trigger a demand from Iran for a renegotiation of the entire nuclear accord. There is little appetite for reopening the accord in Europe, where concerns are high that it would lead to an all-out collapse of the existing deal.

European Union Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini has firmly rejected the idea of trying to renegotiate the agreement in hopes of getting new concessions from Iran. After a closed-door briefing to lawmakers on Capitol Hill last month, Mrs. Mogherini told reporters flat out that “renegotiation [of the nuclear deal] is not an option.”

She also stressed that European nations “wish to see the United States continue in the implementation of the deal.”

There are also concerns about the impact a Trump administration pullout from the Iranian accord may have on U.S. efforts to engage in a negotiated solution to another nuclear-related crisis — that with North Korea.

Donald Trump’s undermining of the Iran nuclear deal only shrinks U.S. options for dealing with North Korea,” said Andray Abrahamian, a visiting fellow with the Jeju Peace Research Institute, a South Korea-based think tank.

“The U.S. president’s decertification of Tehran’s compliance will be well noted in Pyongyang, giving North Korean leader Kim Jong-un a credible excuse for refusing to negotiate with Washington,” Mr. Abrahamian wrote in a recent commentary published by Reuters.

Trump’s Biggest Challenge in Seoul

November 7, 2017

Trump’s Biggest Challenge in Seoul, American Thinker,  Daren Jonescu, November 7, 2017

There is no equivalency here. North Korea’s hostilities are their essence, not a product of outside provocation, real or imagined. Anything they do will be on their own heads, as will any destruction that gets unleashed upon them due to their actions. Theirs is a regime that has no moral legitimacy, and hence, while no one is obliged to do anything about that, neither does anyone owe their rule, their aspirations, or their tender feelings any respect.

The only moral considerations that have any weight in this issue are related to whether annihilating Kim’s national death camp — inherently justifiable — is worth the risk it may bring to the lives of other nations’ citizens.

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Donald Trump is in South Korea today.  All focus, of course, is on whether Trump and recently-elected Korean president Moon Jae-in will present a unified position against North Korean aggression. Or let me restate that in words that make sense within the current zeitgeist: “a unified position on how to avoid an escalation of tensions with North Korea.”

In our worldwide progressive paradigm, suggesting that the problem to be solved here is the threat posed by a tyrannical rogue state’s immoral behavior is considered inflammatory. Rather, we are all supposed to pretend that North Korea is “a sovereign state” with “legitimate concerns about being threatened by the U.S. military presence in Asia,” and that its outrageous provocations, unprovoked violence, and frequent promises to annihilate its democratic enemies are merely “understandable responses to its increased global isolation.”

Demonstrators reacting to Trump’s visit

(Even many conservatives of the libertarian bent are wont to ask, “How would you feel if your neighbors were all discussing how to end your regime?” — as though rationalizing a killing machine’s sensitivities were anything but a moral absurdity.)

As for President Moon, a progressive appeaser in the mold of his old ally and boss, Roh Moo-hyun (of North-South “Sunshine Policy” fame), he may be a tough sell on taking a stronger stand against North Korea. He would likely accept the inevitable if necessary, however, especially since Japan has already signed onto America’s “all options on the table” position, and since China has remained largely aloof from the situation so far.

But President Moon probably will have to be dragged to a harder stance by events — a bizarre thing to have to say about the president of a nation that is technically at war with a communist madhouse dictatorship that tore his own country in half, has starved and enslaved millions of his countrymen, and has carried out repeated acts of murderous aggression against the South in recent years, in addition to its constant threats of all-out attack. Talk about Stockholm Syndrome.

But the depth of the moral problem facing this world — in which most governments, media voices, and academics are progressive in their underlying principles and perspective — may be seen in the sheer silliness with which people speak of what might cause an “escalation of hostilities” with North Korea.  Here is a perfect example, from Professor Koo Kab-woo at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. (Imagine the political perspective likely to prevail at a university with such a name.)

Addressing the concern that Trump might say or do something careless or bombastic during his South Korean trip, Professor Koo says, “If Trump says anything that can provoke North Korea, it could send military tensions soaring again.”

Right. North Korea is calm and trying to restore a peaceful coexistence. But what if Trump goes and blows it with a stupid remark?

You see, the tensions, whatever might have caused them (who can say?), have settled recently, but if they rise again due to Trump’s rhetoric during his visit to Seoul, then the resulting danger will be on America’s head for having “provoked” it.

This is a classic moral equivalency argument (and an excellent preview of exactly how China will respond if an armed conflict begins on the Korean peninsula): “Both sides need to calm down. If Nation A (the world’s oldest republic and traditional leader of the free world) causes things to escalate again by speaking too harshly, then Nation B (a bloody tyranny starving its own broken people and threatening the world with nuclear war) cannot be held solely responsible for the resulting rise in tensions.”

This is the same argument used for decades to frame the Cold War as a battle between “two noble experiments,” rather than between good and evil. It is the same argument used to equate the pro-Palestinian efforts by much of the Middle East (along with the UN and Europe and most of academia and the North American left) to wipe Israel off the map, to Israeli efforts to push back in defense of a nation the size of New Jersey.

Moral equivalency in international relations — “both sides are to blame,” or “both sides have understandable concerns” — is the last refuge of the morally bankrupt. In this case, expressing peevishness that somehow Donald Trump’s words might provoke North Korean hostilities is a convenient way of implying that North Korea is not inherently, essentially hostile to begin with, but rather that any hostility they display is merely a response to outside instigation. Thus, a tyranny is falsely portrayed as an equal participant in difficult diplomacy, rather than a victim of its own obsession with power and destruction. This in turn creates an aura of legitimacy around one of the most illegitimate regimes of modern times.

I myself have been critical of Trump’s often careless rhetoric on North Korea, but my concern has always been that by speaking too cavalierly, Trump risks tipping his administration’s hand unnecessarily, or painting himself into a strategic corner with Obama-like “red lines.” My concerns, in other words, are related to American interests, not North Korea’s “feelings.” Under no circumstances would I ever suggest Trump’s words or actions were to blame for North Korea’s behavior.

Similarly, appeasers like Moon Jae-in, who has used moral equivalency arguments against his own nation and yet has somehow been elected president under the guise of a “champion of the people” — reminiscent of Barack Obama in that regard, both in policy and in manner — exacerbate a national tragedy by emboldening a dictatorship. But by no means would I suggest such appeasers are to blame for the murderous aspirations of Kim Jong-un’s illegitimate regime.

North Korea is a brutal dictatorship with fantasies of eventually uniting the Korean peninsula under their communist bloodlust regime. They, and they alone, are to blame for their aggression; their aggression is not a response to anything, but rather their regime’s raison d’être.

Progressives constantly use moral equivalency arguments and moral relativism to obscure the crimes committed in the name of their death cult ideology. They have thereby obliterated an extremely proper and reasonable category of political discourse: illegitimate power.

In this age, any tyranny that survives long enough to become stable in its authority, or that exists as a protectorate of a bigger tyranny, is regarded as “sovereign,” in the sense of unassailable. The UN exists largely to reinforce and defend the “right” of unjust regimes to exist unchallenged, or to set strict limits on the conditions in which such regimes may be confronted by the so-called “international community.”

North Korea, under its current and permanent government, is not a sovereign nation. It is an illegitimate tyrannical regime, a state governed by men without even a pretense of concern for the well-being of their trampled population, which exists not at all as citizens, but rather as slaves, without any modicum or memory of self-determination or self-ownership.

To legitimize that regime by worrying about whether Donald Trump might say something to “raise tensions” is to miss the point. Tensions are permanent and unavoidable when a tyranny feels its power threatened. But tyrannies deserve to feel their power threatened, and in fact they always will. As Plato taught us long ago, the tyrannical man is the most frightened man in the world, for he lives in the knowledge that his power is not deserved, and that everyone hates him for it. He cannot sleep at night, because he cannot even trust his own guards, or his own brother.

But today, we are told not to speak too loudly, lest we disturb the tyrant’s sleep and make him angry, as if we would be to blame if our would-be killer’s anger were roused. Thus, progressives defend one of their own — an extreme and ridiculous one to be sure, but one of them nonetheless — with moral equivalency arguments.

There is no equivalency here. North Korea’s hostilities are their essence, not a product of outside provocation, real or imagined. Anything they do will be on their own heads, as will any destruction that gets unleashed upon them due to their actions. Theirs is a regime that has no moral legitimacy, and hence, while no one is obliged to do anything about that, neither does anyone owe their rule, their aspirations, or their tender feelings any respect.

The only moral considerations that have any weight in this issue are related to whether annihilating Kim’s national death camp — inherently justifiable — is worth the risk it may bring to the lives of other nations’ citizens.

Daren Jonescu lives in South Korea where he writes about politics, philosophy, education, and the decline of civilization at http://darenjonescu.com/.

Mattis Vists Korean DMZ: ‘Our Goal Is Not War’

October 27, 2017

Mattis Vists Korean DMZ: ‘Our Goal Is Not War’, Washington Free Beacon , October 27, 2017

“When generals and secretary of defenses and ministries of defense are done talking, it relies on your young shoulders to make this alliance work,” Mattis said to South Korean soldiers.

“We’re doing everything we can to solve this diplomatically,” he added. “But ultimately our diplomats have to be backed up by strong soldiers.”

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Defense Secretary James Mattis addressed North Korea’s threat to the world on Thursday during a visit to the Demilitarized Zone, calling for “verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” in the region.

Mattis addressed South Korean troops and the media, reiterating Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s message by saying “our goal is not war,” CNN reported.

“As the U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson has made clear, our goal is not war, yet rather the complete verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” Mattis said.

The defense secretary’ trip to the region comes ahead of President Donald Trump’s visit to Asia next month and as tension grows between North Korea and the United States and its allies. The United Nations has repeatedly condemned North Korea’s illicit nuclear program and defiance of international calls to stand down.

“North Korean provocations continue to threaten regional and world peace, and despite unanimous condemnation by the United Nations’ Security Council, they still proceed,” Mattis said.

 

“When generals and secretary of defenses and ministries of defense are done talking, it relies on your young shoulders to make this alliance work,” Mattis said to South Korean soldiers.

“We’re doing everything we can to solve this diplomatically,” he added. “But ultimately our diplomats have to be backed up by strong soldiers.”

How we got to a nuclear North Korea

October 16, 2017

How we got to a nuclear North Korea, Washington Times, William C. Triplett II, October 15, 2017

Illustration on the history leading up the North Korean nuclear crisis by Alexander Hunter/The Washington Times

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Trump and his Cabinet have said repeatedly that the present state of affairs with North Korea represents 25 years of American foreign policy failure going back over at least three presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Reviewing this disaster, there are at least three major mileposts.

The first of these would be the Dec. 1, 1994 hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the Clinton administration’s “Agreed Framework” with North Korea. The regime had agreed to give up its nuclear weapons program and in return, the United States pledged hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to substitute forms of energy for Pyongyang. Late in the hearing, Sen. Larry Pressler, South Dakota Republican, was pressing the Clinton administration’s spokesman, Ambassador Robert Gallucci, over whether the agreement permitted a “go anywhere in North Korea, anytime” inspection regime. It didn’t, as he was forced to admit.

At that moment, Sen. Pressler asked me to flip open a prepared chart standing on an easel. There was an audible gasp in the room because written on the chart was this: “Based on North Korean actions to date, DIA assesses that North Korea will continue its nuclear weapons program despite any agreement to the contrary.” The statement was made by Lt. Gen. James Clapper, then the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. At the time, Gen. Clapper had the reputation as a straight shooter and everyone in the Foreign Relations Committee hearing room knew that the emperor had no clothes: The Agreed Framework was not going to work, ever, because the Kim regime would cheat on it from the get-go.

The Clinton administration then had a choice: It could go with the judgment of Gen. Clapper and mount a worldwide diplomatic effort to shut down the North Korean nuclear program through trade sanctions and other harsh measures, or it could heed the advice of Mr. Gallucci, State Department Counselor Wendy Sherman, U.N. Ambassador and later Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and pretend that the Agreed Framework was fully clothed. Gen. Clapper lost.

The second milepost came in early October 2002. The incoming Bush ‘43 administration had learned disturbing information about North Korea, but the events of Sept. 11, 2001 had distracted top policymakers. They were just then sending out Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific James Kelly to Pyongyang. Mr. Kelly confronted North Korean diplomat Kang Sok-ju about accusations that North Korea was secretly building nuclear weapons. Kang was equally direct: “Not only yes, but hell yes, and you tell that to your president!”

At this point, the Bush ‘43 story gets murky. We know that strong, decisive action was not taken but not why it was not taken. We know that the North Koreans set off their first weapon in 2006 on George W. Bush’s watch. We know that the Bush administration launched new negotiations with the North Koreans under Ambassador Christopher Hill, National Security Adviser and later Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s old colleague from the George H.W. Bush administration. Those negotiations failed spectacularly.

Conversation among former Bush ‘43 veterans suggests that in addition to Mr. Kelly, U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and Vice President Dick Cheney’s National Security Adviser Scooter Libby also favored a get-tough policy toward North Korea before the Kim regime passed the nuclear threshold, but Mr. Bush sided with Secretary Rice and Ambassador Hill. We will have to await the opening of the Bush ‘43 files to determine what really happened, but certainly we can say that the pressure of the Iraq War sucked the air out of Bush administration policymakers on North Korea and other pressing matters.

In the case of the third milepost, the warning came from outside the U.S. government. In the early Obama administration, Stanford University professor Siegfried S. Hecker, a proponent of negotiations with North Korea, was permitted to see the inside of the North Korean nuclear weapons production facilities and he was “stunned,” he said, by what he saw. North Korea had graduated from essentially an experimental set-up to a full-scale industrial program, and they did it with outside help. As late as 2012, Mr. Hecker was ringing the alarm: “It is important, therefore, to stop Pyongyang from importing large quantities of key centrifuge materials and components to prevent it from building large additional centrifuge facilities now that it has apparently mastered the art of manufacture and operations.”

For whatever reason, neither Secretary of State Hillary Clinton nor Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman heeded his call. Nor was the State Department alert under Mrs. Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, when the North Koreans managed to obtain a supply of Soviet-era rocket engines that make a North Korean nuclear weapon deliverable to the United States.

At the end of the day, Harry Truman was right: The buck stops at the Oval Office, but in the case of the North Korean disaster, it has had a number of stops along the way.

• William C. Triplett II is the author of Rogue State (Regnery, 2004).

Trump is Right, Tillerson is Wasting His Time on North Korea

October 2, 2017

Trump is Right, Tillerson is Wasting His Time on North Korea, Power LinePaul Mirengoff, October 2, 2017

(Please see also, China openly discussing collapse of North Korea. — DM)

If there is any hope of changing North Korea’s behavior, it rests not with Tillerson’s diplomacy or with the direct effect of threatening Kim Jong Un. Rather, it rests with China acting out of self-interest.

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A day after Secretary of State Tillerson said he was reaching out to North Korea in hopes of starting a new dialogue, President Trump belittled the idea. He tweeted:

I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man. Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!

Trump is right. North Korea isn’t going to negotiate away its nuclear arsenal and it’s not going to freeze its nuclear program until the program has the capacity to inflict the level of damage Kim Jong Un deems necessary to deter the U.S. — namely the capacity to hit major U.S. cities.

Michael Green, President George W. Bush’s chief Asia adviser, acknowledged that “the president is right on this one in the sense that Pyongyang is clear it will not put nuclear weapons on the negotiating table, nor will the current level of sanctions likely convince them to do so. . . .”

The incoherence of Tillerson’s approach is underscored by this incoherent statement by Sen. Bob Corker:

I think that there’s more going on than meets the eye. I think Tillerson understands that every intelligence agency we have says there’s no amount of economic pressure you can put on North Korea to get them to stop this program because they view this as their survival.

If no amount of economic pressure can induce North Korea to stop its nuclear program because of its centrality to the regime’s survival, then what are the likely outcomes of Tillerson negotiating with the regime? The likely outcomes are (1) no agreement or (2) acceptance of North Korea continuing its program, in effect on North Korean terms.

These have been the outcomes of past U.S. diplomacy with North Korea. As Trump tweeted: “Being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now?”

The question remains, though, why did Trump publicly undercut his Secretary of State on Twitter. According to reports, the president was furious at Tillerson for contradicting his public position that now is not the time for talks. That seems like reason enough for the president’s tweeting. It may be reason enough to sack Tillerson.

Some have suggested that Trump is attempting a good cop, bad cop approach to Kim Jong Un. It seems to be true that the North Koreans are mightily confused by conflicting signals coming from Washington. According to a number of sources, they are frantically talking to American sources in an attempt to understand the true intentions of the Trump administration. And Trump has often touted the advantages of keeping our adversaries uncertain about his intentions.

It’s far from clear, however, that this is the right approach in the context of a fledgling nuclear power led by an inexperienced ruler about whom we don’t know much. My guess is that Trump’s rhetoric will unsettle North Korea, but is no more likely than Tillerson’s diplomacy to deter it from expanding its nuclear program.

At the same time, it will not prompt Kim Jong Un to start a war he otherwise doesn’t want, as Trump’s critics suggest might happen. Where’s the advantage to the regime in that?

If one is inclined to view Trump’s rhetoric as rationally calculated to achieve a positive purpose, I think that purpose would be to influence China. If China believes Trump might launch a preemptive attack on North Korea, it might apply a stranglehold on the regime, especially if it also sees South Korea and Japan possibly moving towards developing a nuclear arsenal.

If there is any hope of changing North Korea’s behavior, it rests not with Tillerson’s diplomacy or with the direct effect of threatening Kim Jong Un. Rather, it rests with China acting out of self-interest.

North Korea taps GOP analysts to better understand Trump and his messages

September 26, 2017

North Korea taps GOP analysts to better understand Trump and his messages, Washington PostAnna Fifield, September 26, 2017

Spectators listen to a television news broadcast of a statement by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on a public television screen in Pyongyang on Friday. (Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)

 North Korean government officials have been quietly trying to arrange talks with Republican-linked analysts in Washington, in an apparent attempt to make sense of President Trump and his confusing messages to Kim Jong Un’s regime.

The outreach began before the current eruption of threats between the two leaders but will probably become only more urgent as Trump and Kim have descended into name-calling that, many analysts worry, sharply increases the chances of potentially catastrophic misunderstandings.

“Their number one concern is Trump. They can’t figure him out,” said one person with direct knowledge of North Korea’s approach to Asia experts with Republican connections.

There is no suggestion that the North Koreans are interested in negotiations about their nuclear program — they instead seem to want forums for insisting on being recognized as a nuclear state — and the Trump administration has made clear it is not interested in talking right now.

At a multilateral meeting here in Switzerland earlier this month, North Korea’s representatives were adamant about being recognized as a nuclear weapons state and showed no willingness to even talk about denuclearization.

(Video at the link. — DM)

But to get a better understanding of American intentions, in the absence of official diplomatic talks with the U.S. government, North Korea’s mission to the United Nations invited Bruce Klingner, a former CIA analyst who is now the Heritage Foundation’s top expert on North Korea, to visit Pyongyang for meetings.

Trump has close ties to Heritage, a conservative think tank that has influenced the president on everything from travel restrictions to defense spending, but no personal connection to Klingner.

“They’re on a new binge of reaching out to American scholars and ex-officials,” said Klingner, who declined the North Korean invitation. “While such meetings are useful, if the regime wants to send a clear message, it should reach out directly to the U.S. government.”

North Korean intermediaries have also approached Douglas Paal, who served as an Asia expert on the National Security Council under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and is now vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

They wanted Paal to arrange talks between North Korean officials and American experts with Republican ties in a neutral location such as Switzerland. He also declined the North Korean request.

“The North Koreans are clearly eager to deliver a message. But I think they’re only interested in getting some travel, in getting out of the country for a bit,” Paal said.

(Video at the link. — DM)

North Korea currently has about seven such invitations out to organizations that have hosted previous talks — a surprising number of requests for a country that is threatening to launch a nuclear strike on the United States.

Over the past two years in particular, Pyongyang has sent officials from its Foreign Ministry to hold meetings with Americans — usually former diplomats and think-tankers — in neutral places such as Geneva, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

They are referred to as “Track 1.5” talks because they are official (Track 1) on the North Korean side but unofficial (Track 2) on the American side, although the U.S. government is kept informed of the talks.

But since Trump’s election in November, the North Korean representatives have been predominantly interested in figuring out the unconventional president’s strategy, according to almost a dozen people involved in the discussions. All asked for anonymity to talk about the sensitive meetings.

Early in Trump’s term, the North Koreans asked broad questions: Is President Trump serious about closing American military bases in South Korea and Japan, as he said on the campaign trail? Might he really send American nuclear weapons back to the southern half of the Korean Peninsula?

But the questions have since become more specific. Why, for instance, are Trump’s top officials, notably Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, directly contradicting the president so often?

“The North Koreans are reaching out through various channels and through various counterparts,” said Evans Revere, a former State Department official who dealt with North Korea and is a frequent participant in such talks. There are a number of theories about why North Korea is doing this.

“My own guess is that they are somewhat puzzled as to the direction in which the U.S. is going, so they’re trying to open up channels to take the pulse in Washington,” Revere said. “They haven’t seen the U.S. act like this before.”

Revere attended a multilateral meeting with North Korean officials in the picturesque Swiss village of Glion earlier this month, together with Ralph Cossa, chairman of the Pacific Forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and another frequent interlocutor with Pyongyang’s representatives.

The meeting is an annual event organized by the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, a government-linked think tank. But it took on extra significance this year due to the sudden rise in tensions between North Korea and the United States.

All the countries involved in the now-defunct six-party denuclearization talks — the United States, China, Japan, Russia, and the two Koreas — were represented, as were Mongolia, the Swiss government and the European Union. The Swiss invited the U.S. government to send an official, but it did not.

The North Koreans at the meeting displayed an “encyclopedic” knowledge of Trump’s tweets, to the extent that they were able to quote them back to the Americans present.

Pyongyang’s delegation was headed by Choe Kang Il, deputy director of the Americas division in the Foreign Ministry, and he was accompanied by three officials in their late 20s who wowed the other participants with their intellectual analysis and their perfect American-accented English. One even explained to the other delegates how the U.S. Congress works.

“They were as self-confident as I’ve ever seen them,” said Cossa. Revere added: “They may be puzzled about our intentions, but they have a very clear set of intentions of their own.”

The participants declined to divulge the contents of the discussions, as they were off the record.

But others familiar with the talks said the North Koreans completely ruled out the “freeze-for-freeze” idea being promoted by China and Russia, in which Pyongyang would freeze its nuclear and missile activities if the United States stopped conducting military exercises in South Korea. The United States, Japan and South Korea also outright reject the idea.

Participants left the day-and-a-half-long meeting with little hope for any improvement anytime soon.

“I’m very pessimistic,” said Shin Beom-chul, a North Korea expert at the South’s Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, after participating in the meeting in Glion. “They want to keep their nuclear weapons, and they will only return to dialogue after the United States nullifies its ‘hostile policy.’ They want the U.S. to stop all military exercises and lift all sanctions on them.”

Ken Jimbo, who teaches at Keio University in Japan and was also at the meeting, said that North Korea may still be interested in dialogue, but on terms that are unacceptable to the other side.

“North Korea wants to be recognized as a nuclear-weapons state,” Jimbo said. “But when is North Korea ready for talks? This is what I kept asking the North Koreans: How much is enough?”