It looks as if Donald Trump will have to eat his tweeted words about destroying the North Korean Rocket Man. For Kim Jong-un has taken the lead by tabling an offer that even the unquiet American president ought to find hard pushed to reject: a freezing of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme against the backdrop of bilateral talks with Washington on security guarantees. Indeed, there has been talk of eventually surrendering these WMDs if the US comes good on the latter.
It is hoped that President Trump does not look this particular gift horse in the mouth; especially considering all the hard work that Seoul has put in to get there. After all, this breakthrough came in the wake of a South Korean delegation’s visit to the reclusive North; in the first meeting of its kind since Kim took over the reins of power some six years ago.
If nothing else, the White House is in dire need of a foreign policy success story by the time of the US mid-terms at the end of the year. And though the focus has hitherto been on exiting the Afghan quagmire –a deal with Pyongyang could be just the boost TrumpTown needs. Yet the latter needs to show willingness ahead of next month’s pow wow between the North Korean leader and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which is expected to centre on the de-nuclearisation of the shared border.
Trump has long said that the US would only entertain direct talks with the North on the condition that the latter begin reversing its WMD capability. But he should take this statement of intent seriously and not impose preconditions for peace from the very get-go. This did not work in Kabul and it certainly will be an unconstructive approach when dealing with Pyongyang. And just as the Afghan Taliban have made clear that peace is dependent upon an end to American military presence — so, too, has the Kim Jong-un regime in terms of the US build-up across its border.
A good place to start, therefore, would be for Washington to suspend the sanctions it slapped on North Korea last month; at least for the duration of the anticipated peace dialogue. For while much has been said about the latter needing to win American trust — this has to be a mutual process if the two sides are to move forward. And given that Kim may or may not have the technology to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile directly on the US homeland, it remains up to the self-appointed policeman to the world to take the lead responsibly. After all, it is not as if the recent Russian claim of having non-interceptive nukes is not cause for global concern.
So, come on President Trump. Give peace a chance. *
Published in Daily Times, March 7th 2018.