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Trump Won’t Let North Korea ‘Play Him’

Trump Convinced North Korea No Longer Playing Around

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Key U.S. leaders are expressing a growing optimism that decades of hostility on the Korean Peninsula are closer than ever to coming to an end.

“I don’t think he’s playing, I don’t think he’s playing,” U.S. President Donald Trump said at a White House news conference, when asked about Friday’s historic summit between North and South Korea.

“It’s never gone this far,” Trump said, standing alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Trump added the U.S. will be “setting up a meeting very shortly,” but didn’t specify a timeline, saying officials are considering two or three possible sites for his much-anticipated summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in late May or early June.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in raise their hands after signing a joint statement at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, April 27, 2018.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in raise their hands after signing on a joint statement at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, Friday, April 27, 2018. VOA

Earlier Friday, Kim became the first North Korean leader to set foot in South Korea, when he crossed the border to shake the hand of South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

The two leaders agreed to work toward removing all nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula and vowed to pursue talks that would bring a formal end to the Korean war.

North Korea has in the past made similar commitments about its nuclear program, but failed to follow through. Asked whether Pyongyang’s commitment is real this time, Trump said “we’re not going to get played.”

“This isn’t like past administrations. We don’t play games,” said Trump, adding that previous administrations had been “played like a fiddle.”

Also Read: China And Russia Accused of Manipulating Their Currencies By Trump

“We will come up with a solution, and if we don’t we will leave the room,” he said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also expressed hope Friday that talks with North Korea will bear fruit.

“I can tell you that we are optimistic right now that there’s opportunity here that we have never enjoyed since 1950,” Mattis said before a meeting at the Pentagon with the Polish defense minister.

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” he added. “So, we’re going to have to see what they produce.”

The White House and the Pentagon see the diplomatic progress as the result of Washington’s “maximum pressure” campaign, which included heavy sanctions and frequent threats of military force. Trump had said he was prepared to “totally destroy” North Korea if necessary.

Defense Secretary James Mattis answers a question from members of the Polish media, before a arrival ceremony for Poland's Minister of Defense Mariusz Blaszczak, April 27, 2018, at the Pentagon.
Defense Secretary James Mattis answers a question from members of the Polish media, before a arrival ceremony for Poland’s Minister of Defense Mariusz Blaszczak, April 27, 2018, at the Pentagon. VOA

“Things have changed very rapidly from a few months ago — you know, the name calling and a lot of other things,” Trump said Friday.

For now, the threats have faded. But it’s not clear how much North Korea is willing to offer at the talks or what it will demand in return. Nor is it clear how much the U.S. is willing to give.

Mattis Friday did not rule out the possibility U.S. troops could come home from South Korea if a Seoul and Pyongyang are able to reach an agreement.

Also Read: Donald Trump Negotiates Trade Deal With Japan

“That’s part of the issues we’ll be discussing in the negotiations with our allies first and, of course, with North Korea,” he told reporters. “Right now we have to go along with the process, have the negotiations, not try to make preconditions or presumptions of how it’s going to go.”

On Friday, Moon and Kim’s statement said the two leaders “confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free peninsula.”

After the meeting, Trump tweeted his support for the talks, saying “good things are happening, but only time will tell!”

Fifteen minutes later, Trump tweeted: “KOREAN WAR TO END! The United States, and all of its GREAT people, should be very proud of what is now taking place in Korea!”

“I think the responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of the president of the United States,” Trump said alongside Merkel. “I think I have a responsibility to see if I can do it.”

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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)