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

Obama advised Trump to pursue the pressure option

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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

North Korea Tests ‘Tactical Weapon’, Desires Removal of U.S. Secretary From Nuclear Talks

While it is not totally clear what weapon was tested, analysts say it is highly not likely that that it is a long-range missile, as that would spell an end to negotiations entirely.

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North Korea's Scud-B missile
A mock North Korea's Scud-B missile, left, and South Korean missiles are displayed at Korea War Memorial Museum in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, April 18, 2019. North Korea said Thursday that it had test-fired a new type of "tactical guided weapon," its first such test in nearly half a year, and a possible sign of its displeasure with deadlocked nuclear talks with the United States. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

North Korea said Thursday it test-fired a “tactical guided weapon,” while in a separate move, the reclusive state demanded the removal of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from negotiations over its nuclear program.

Experts believe both moves are a return to Pyongyang’s strategy of brinkmanship: extreme, yet calculated actions that show the country’s resentment with the stalled negotiations with Washington.

The weapons test on Wednesday, followed by the bold demand on Pompeo, simultaneously show outsiders that North Korea won’t back down, and to show strength domestically amid internal worries that diplomacy with the U.S. indicate the regime’s weakness, analysts said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong was present at the weapons test, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

“The development of the weapon system serves as an event of very weighty significance in increasing the combat power of the People’s Army,” he reportedly said.

During the South Korean Ministry of National Defense’s regular press briefing Thursday, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff did not give details of North Korea’s new tactical guided weapon.

The weapon, mentioned by North Korean media today is currently under review. It is not appropriate to give details of military information,” said Kim Jun-rak, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s public information office.

While Pompeo’s remarks suggested that a third U.S.-North Korea summit could happen soon, others in the administration were doubtful.
While Pompeo’s remarks suggested that a third U.S.-North Korea summit could happen soon, others in the administration were doubtful. VOA

In Washington, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon that North Korea conducted a test, but said it didn’t involve a ballistic weapon and didn’t trigger any change in U.S. military operations, the Associated Press reported.

While it is not totally clear what weapon was tested, analysts say it is highly not likely that that it is a long-range missile, as that would spell an end to negotiations entirely.

The BBC pointed out that testing a different kind of weapon allows Kim to say that he isn’t breaking any agreements not to test ICBMs, but still show North Korea has the capacity and will to develop new weapons. In essence it is a creative way to irritate North Korea’s detractors as if it tested the prohibited weapons without actually doing so.

According to one U.S. congressman it appears that Kim’s strategy is having the desired effect.

“Make no mistake about it: North Korea remains a clear and present danger to the safety and security of the American people,” said Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) in a statement Wednesday night.

“These alleged actions underscore that sanctions must remain in place and new sanctions must be levied until there is complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the North Korean regime,” he said.

Meanwhile, Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington, said through his twitter account Thursday that the weapons test should not be taken as an indication of North Korea’s unwillingness to negotiate.

“Pundits and policy makers should refrain from automatically presuming this is an indicator of Pyongyang deliberately ratcheting up tensions or closing the door on negotiations,” said Klingner.

He said, however, that the regime was unhappy that negotiations were not proceeding smoothly in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s second summit with Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam in February.

The meeting ended in disagreement over competing U.S. demands for movement on denuclearization by Pyongyang and North Korean expectations for relief from punishing economic sanctions.

“That said, there are already plenty of negative signs that negotiations aren’t going well. Kim’s speech to the Supreme People’s Assembly is a clearer signal of North Korean intentions than yesterday’s military activity,” Klingner said.

Of the weapons test, Kim, Dong-yeop, a research professor at the Kyungnam University Institute for Far East Studies in South Korea posted on his social network site, “It seems like North Korea is strengthening selective conventional weapons and have intentions to hold conventional deterrence to protect the state.”

North Korea made the demand for Pompeo’s replacement following a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing in which he confirmed that in the past he has called North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a “tyrant.”

Pompeo also said Monday during a speech that Kim made a promise to denuclearize during the first U.S.-North Korea summit last year in Singapore.

Deal
The president is fully prepared to have a third summit if he can get a real deal. VOA

“He said he wanted it done by the end of the year,” Pompeo said during the speech. “I’d love to see that done sooner.”

North Korea’s Director General of the American Affairs Department at the Foreign Ministry Kwon Jong Gun said in a statement that Pompeo misrepresented what Kim had said, that negotiations should be finalized by the year’s end.

Kwon said that Pompeo “spouted reckless remarks, hurting the dignity of our supreme leadership… to unveil his mean character”.

Also Read: More And More Women Join The Arakan Army’s Fight Against Myanmar’s Central Government

While Pompeo’s remarks suggested that a third U.S.-North Korea summit could happen soon, others in the administration were doubtful.

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said Wednesday in an interview with Bloomberg News that Washington needs more concrete indications that Kim is ready to give up his nuclear arsenal before a third summit could occur.

“The president is fully prepared to have a third summit if he can get a real deal,” he said. (RFA)