Thursday February 21, 2019
Home Lead Story Trump Needs O...

Trump Needs Obama For Dealing With North Korea, Said Jon Wolfsthal

Obama advised Trump to pursue the pressure option

0
//

During a meeting regarding the transition, former President Barack Obama presented President-elect Donald Trump with two options for dealing with North Korea, said Jon Wolfsthal, a close Obama aide who served as senior director at the National Security Council for arms control and nonproliferation during the Obama administration.

The two options: Seek a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs through direct engagement, or increase pressure on North Korea through China.

Obama advised Trump to pursue the pressure option, according to Wolfsthal. He specifically advised Trump to push for greater Chinese support to rein in the North’s nuclear development, he added.

“Making it clear to China that their continued protection of North Korea was beginning to undermine American security interests and that we would increasingly have to take steps to protect our interests in a way that might undermine China’s own security was a strategy that we believed was going to bear fruit,” Wolfsthal said during an interview with VOA Korean in February 2017, shortly after his departure from the Obama administration.

President Donald Trump talks with Kim Yong Chol, former North Korean military intelligence chief and one of leader Kim Jong Un's closest aides, as they walk from their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, June 1, 2018.
President Donald Trump talks with Kim Yong Chol, former North Korean military intelligence chief and one of leader Kim Jong Un’s closest aides, as they walk from their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, June 1, 2018. VOA

Pressure and engagement

Despite his repeated criticism of Obama for failing to stop North Korea’s nuclear development, Trump took Obama’s advice and employed it in his strategy. Pressuring China is a key element of Trump’s strategy on North Korea.

What makes Trump’s strategy different from Obama’s is it eventually pursues dialogue with North Korea.

Unlike Obama, who showed little interest in talks with North Korea, Trump is pursuing a dual strategy of pressure and engagement. He is using pressure and engagement in sequence: put pressure first and try engagement.

The purpose of Trump’s “maximum pressure campaign” is to press North Korea to return to dialogue and produce desirable outcomes from talks.

President Donald Trump talks with Kim Yong Chol, former North Korean military intelligence chief and one of leader Kim Jong Un's closest aides, as they walk from their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, June 1, 2018.
President Donald Trump talks with Kim Yong Chol, former North Korean military intelligence chief and one of leader Kim Jong Un’s closest aides, as they walk from their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, June 1, 2018. VOA

Trump’s strategy is a clear departure from the Obama administration’s, but it’s not unprecedented. A similar strategy was tried by William Perry, who served as secretary of defense from 1994-1997 under former President Bill Clinton. Perry advocated the so-called “coercive diplomacy,” that is, diplomacy backed up with a credible military threat.

US promises, silence on human rights

Trump sent a clear message to Pyongyang that his strategy is different from that of the previous administration: seeking dialogue while keeping sanctions in place.

In a bid to bring North Korea to the table and allay the North’s security concerns, the Trump administration laid out four actions the U.S. would not take against North Korea.

In August 2017, as tensions were rising rapidly after North Korea’s second intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson assured North Korea that the U.S. “will not seek a regime change, a collapse of the regime, an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, or an excuse to send military north of the 38th parallel.”

No previous U.S. administration had ever made such promises to North Korea in this way.

People watch a TV screen showing file footage of U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, May 16, 2018.
People watch a TV screen showing file footage of U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, May 16, 2018. VOA

Trump has also been relatively subdued in his criticism of North Korea’s human rights violations compared with previous administrations, a stance that has drawn criticism from some members of Congress and human rights groups. Trump’s supporters, however, say his efforts to engage North Korea would not be productive if the administration raised the human rights issue strongly.

Top-down approach

Trump may soon to be the first sitting U.S. president to meet with a North Korean leader, with the upcoming summit in Singapore. His top-down approach has had its ups and downs, however.

Supporters say Trump has made far more progress in diplomacy with North Korea than any of his predecessors. The dramatic shift from a possible military confrontation to a flurry of high-level diplomacy in less than six months was only possible because of Trump’s full support, they say.

Supporters argue Trump’s commitment to dialogue contributed to the North Korean regime’s decision to return to talks, saying Pyongyang has been seeking a summit with a U.S. president for many years.

Critics argue Trump should not start the discussions, but that his involvement should be the carrot at the end of the process.

They also argue allowing a North Korean leader to have a face-to-face meeting with a sitting U.S. president alone is a huge concession to North Korea. Such a meeting gives legitimacy to the North Korean regime, which it badly needs, without offering the U.S. anything in return.

Some critics also suggest the summit helps Kim shift his image from that of a “brutal dictator” who executed his uncle and ordered the assassination of his half brother to a “skillful leader.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a long- and medium-range ballistic rocket launch drill in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang, Aug. 30, 2017.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a long- and medium-range ballistic rocket launch drill in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang, Aug. 30, 2017. VOA

Fate of dual strategy

The Trump administration has said it will keep sanctions in place against Pyongyang until a complete denuclearization of North Korea is achieved. It believes maintaining sanctions will give the U.S. the upper hand in negotiations with North Korea.

It has also vowed to increase sanctions and international pressure against North Korea if talks fail.

Critics warn, however, that Trump’s pressure campaign will lose momentum once talks are under way.

Trump’s critics say the consequences of failed talks are great, and that it would be difficult for the administration to revive diplomatic efforts for sanctions if talks collapse at the summit.

Also read: Moon meet Trump North Korea summit

They caution it is unrealistic to unilaterally demand North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons, saying North Korea is likely to demand corresponding action from the United States.(VOA)

 

Next Story

Hanoi Summit Can Progress North Korea’s Objectives

North Korea was able to establish this framework with the United States that it is more urgent to establish the confidence-building relationship between these two countries and then we can start nuclear dismantlement.

0
North Korea
U.S and North Korean flags are on sale at a flag shop in Hanoi, Vietnam, Jan. 29, 2019. VOA

With the second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un one week away, final preparations are underway in Vietnam for the February 27-28 talks in Hanoi. It remains unclear what the outcome between the two leaders will yield, but former North Korean Deputy Ambassador to Britain, Thae Yong Ho, told reporters Tuesday that Pyongyang’s long term goal was to remove the U.S. and United Nations presence from the Korean peninsula.

During Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s speech, he said Pyongyang called for a “staged approach” for the creation of a “peace regime” on the Korean Peninsula, said Thae.

He explained that Kim suggested a buffer zone be created that would reduce the possibility of military conflict between the two Koreas and for it to be gradually expanded from the border between the two Koreas throughout the whole peninsula as one way of achieving peace.

Thae said if President Trump issues an end of war declaration at the Hanoi summit, which many analysts say is possible, then North Korea could assert there is no reason for the U.N. Command to remain on the peninsula, because the “reason for the U.N. Command is to prevent any possible military confrontations between the two Koreas.”

Speaking at the Chey Institute for Advanced Studies in Seoul last week, Bruce Bennett, senior defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, also identified possible long-term objectives for Kim Jong Un.

“I think he wants to see U.S. disengagement from the peninsula, I think he wants to be in a position where he can put significant pressure on South Korea, and I think he needs to solidify his internal support,” said Bennett.

Regardless of the analysis by intelligence agencies and experts, Bennett said Kim’s objectives are not governed by what “we” think is possible for North Korea to achieve.

“What matters for him (Kim Jong Un), that’s what he thinks he can accomplish, because that’s going to drive those actions,” said Bennett.

Denuclearization

Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office Tuesday, President Trump expects “a lot of things will come out” of the second summit with Kim Jong Un.

He called the upcoming meeting “very exciting,” but said Washington’s ultimate goal is North Korea’s denuclearization.

“I think we will see that ultimately. I have no pressing time schedule,” the president said, adding, “As long as there’s no testing, I’m in no rush. If there’s testing, that’s another deal.”

North Korea
Instead, the former diplomat suggested that North Korea’s rhetoric was aimed at Washington’s role of establishing a deterrent for conflict in the region and that President Trump “fell into his trap.” Pixabay

During President Trump’s State of the Union address, he claimed, “If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea with potentially millions of people killed.”

However, on Tuesday, he said the relationship was “far less dangerous and there’s a lot of sanity, a lot of really sane thinking.”

But Thae said there never really was a threat of war to the United States posed by North Korea.

Instead, the former diplomat suggested that North Korea’s rhetoric was aimed at Washington’s role of establishing a deterrent for conflict in the region and that President Trump “fell into his trap.”

“The fact that President Trump spoke at the General Assembly of the United Nations and proclaimed that there is a real possibility of a war, [was] a major strategic mistake,” said Thae.

He went on further to say the belief that the United States and North Korea were on a nuclear “collision course” was a result of North Korean manipulation.

Thae stated Kim Jong Un had successfully shifted the focus on North Korea to the strengthening of relations and establishing peace for nuclear disarmament.

“North Korea was able to establish this framework with the United States that it is more urgent to establish the confidence-building relationship between these two countries and then we can start nuclear dismantlement,” he said.

Bennett was unsure Kim would agree to fully abandon his nuclear weapons program, even if an end of war declaration is made.

If President Trump makes the declaration, Bennett said, “It’s got to end the broader war and lead to a real condition of peace as opposed to the appearance of peace.”

U.S.
Moon said South Korea was “determined to take up that role if President Trump asks, if that’s the way to lessen the U.S. burden,” according to Moon’s spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom. (Pixabay)

Hanoi preparations

The State Department announced Tuesday that U.S. Special Representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, was en route to Hanoi in preparation for the summit.

“A lot of things are being discussed and we are very much looking forward to next week,” said deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino.

Kim Hyok-chol, Biegun’s North Korean counterpart, was also spotted in Beijing Tuesday, and it has been assumed he would be traveling to Vietnam as well.

In a phone call with President Trump Tuesday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in spoke about the upcoming second U.S.-North Korea summit.

A statement from South Korea’s presidential office said Moon offered his country’s assistance to President Trump as a “concession” to Pyongyang in order to expedite North Korea’s denuclearization.

Also Read: Saudi, India Admit of Putting Pressure on Countries Supporting Terrorism

That could include anything from reconnecting rail and road links between the two Koreas to other inter-Korean economic cooperation.

Moon said South Korea was “determined to take up that role if President Trump asks, if that’s the way to lessen the U.S. burden,” according to Moon’s spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom. (VOA)