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Trump Won’t Let North Korea ‘Play Him’

Trump Convinced North Korea No Longer Playing Around

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One of the main reasons explaining Trump's unpopularity was reviews in mass media, according to the head of communications of White House.
One of the main reasons explaining Trump's unpopularity was reviews in mass media, according to the head of communications of White House. VOA

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.”

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“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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After Failed Hanoi Summit, U.S. Imposes First North Korea-Linked Sanctions

Trump and Kim have held two summits — the first in Singapore last June and the second in Hanoi this February. Trump has not ruled out a third such meeting.

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Protesters march toward the U.S. Embassy during a rally supporting the U.S. policy to put steady pressure on North Korea, in Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 3, 2018. VOA

With negotiations at an impasse, Washington has imposed additional sanctions on those assisting Pyongyang — the first such action since February’s failed summit in Hanoi between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“This is not really about intensification of pressure,” a senior U.S. administration official said. “This is about maintaining pressure as defined by the international community.”

FILE - In this Feb. 28, 2019, photo, U.S. President Donald Trump, accompanied by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaks at a news conference in Hanoi, following talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump said he walked away from his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un because Kim demanded the U.S. lift all of its sanctions.
In this Feb. 28, 2019, photo, U.S. President Donald Trump, accompanied by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaks at a news conference in Hanoi, following talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump said he walked away from his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un because Kim demanded the U.S. lift all of its sanctions. VOA

Thursday’s sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department on two China-based shipping companies were the latest evidence of some “leakage” in the enforcement of sanctions by Beijing, but U.S. officials said that overall, China was abiding by the U.N. resolutions slapped on North Korea for its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs.

Washington wants Pyongyang to surrender its entire nuclear arsenal and other mass-destruction weapons before being granted any relief from sanctions. The North Koreans insist on sanctions relief before halting production of fissile materials.

“Insisting on unilateral North Korean disarmament upfront is pushing on the wrong door. We should be pushing to first slow the program, then cap it, and ultimately keep rollback and disarmament the long-term goal,” said Vipin Narang, associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “But every month that passes without a grand deal is one in which North Korea’s nuclear program continues to grow larger — increasing the risk of its own use and proliferation to other countries — and the chances of a deal grow smaller.”

 

FILE - In this undated image from video distributed Jan. 1, 2019, by North Korean broadcaster KRT, leader Kim Jong Un delivers a speech in North Korea.
In this undated image from video distributed Jan. 1, 2019, by North Korean broadcaster KRT, leader Kim Jong Un delivers a speech in North Korea. VOA

Analysts also worry Kim could grow impatient, turn away from diplomacy with Trump and look to China to provide sanctions relief that North Korea desperately needs.

“I’m not sure we can be confident that Beijing will uphold enforcement after Trump so abruptly walked away from negotiations with North Korea,” said Jean Lee, who directs the center for Korean history and public policy at the Wilson Center, a global policy research group in Washington. “I do hope North Korea sticks to negotiation and does not resort to provocation. If Pyongyang doesn’t get the response it craves and needs from Washington, North Korea may turn back to a tried and tested strategy: to get Trump, and the world’s attention, with another illicit missile launch or test.”

U.S. officials on Thursday, speaking to reporters on condition of not being named, expressed patience and confidence with their stance toward North Korea.

Patience

“What they’re facing now is unprecedented,” said one U.S. official of the sanctions on North Korea. “We’ll give it some time.”

Lee, currently in Seoul, told VOA she found it “interesting that we’re back to a form of strategic patience. There was high hope, especially here in Seoul, that Trump’s impatience and unpredictability would lead to fast movement on North Korea. But the Trump administration is finding that it’s much tougher than the president may have thought of simply bullying Kim into acquiescence.”

A prolonged lull in talks “could become risky, and maintaining maximalist positions will not be sustainable,” said Duyeon Kim, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a national security research group in Washington.

FILE - In this Dec. 21, 2018, photo, a North Korean woman walks outside Bugsae Shop, also known as the "Singapore Shop," in Pyongyang. Business is booming at such shops, which sell everything from Ukrainian vodka to brand-name knock-offs from China. The stores stock many of the very things U.N. sanctions banning trade in luxury goods are intended to block.
In this Dec. 21, 2018, photo, a North Korean woman walks outside Bugsae Shop, also known as the “Singapore Shop,” in Pyongyang. Business is booming at such shops, which sell everything from Ukrainian vodka to brand-name knock-offs from China. The stores stock many of the very things U.N. sanctions banning trade in luxury goods are intended to block. VOA

“They need to negotiate a denuclearization-peace road map soon and preferably an interim agreement on fissile materials. Rapid and complete denuclearization is not realistic. Denuclearization will have to occur in stages but in accordance with an agreed road map on how this all ends,” Kim told VOA.

The current primary point of pressure on Pyongyang by the international community is on entities, including their ships, involved with illicitly exporting North Korean goods, such as coal, and taking products — especially petroleum — into the impoverished country in violation of U.N. sanctions.

Unless North Korea denuclearizes, “we’re going to maintain that pressure,” a senior U.S official said.

Daily monitoring

A coalition of countries — using their vessels, aircraft and classified intelligence means — are daily watching the movement of ships involved in the illegal trade.

North Korea and those helping it are trying to obscure identities of ships and cargo by disabling or manipulating systems that identify the vessels for safety and navigation, physically altering vessel identifications and making ship-to-ship transfers to avoid ports, according to a sanctions advisory jointly issued Thursday by the U.S. Treasury and State departments and the Coast Guard.

Neither the United States nor any other country has moved to interdict the offending ships.

FILE - This photo released by Japan's Ministry of Defense shows what it says is the North Korean-flagged tanker Yu Jong 2, left, and the Min Ning De You 078 lying alongside in the East China Sea, Feb. 16, 2018.
This photo released by Japan’s Ministry of Defense shows what it says is the North Korean-flagged tanker Yu Jong 2, left, and the Min Ning De You 078 lying alongside in the East China Sea, Feb. 16, 2018. VOA

“I don’t want to talk about potential steps we may or may not take,” replied a senior administration official when asked by VOA whether there was discussion here about using the U.S. Navy or Coast Guard in international waters to take such action.

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Trump and Kim have held two summits — the first in Singapore last June and the second in Hanoi this February. Trump has not ruled out a third such meeting.

“The door is wide open to continuing the dialogue with North Korea. The president wants to see progress at the working level, and he’s engaged as well,” a senior administration official said. (VOA)