From a read of some of the commentary emanating from Pyongyang, one might get the impression that North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Un is not all that enamored of having another round of discussions with American President Donald Trump.
A closer look reveals otherwise.
Consider the signs coming from the North. Disparaging remarks about U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo clearly express the North’s frustration with Washington’s hardline advisors to the President.
The objective is to separate them away from Trump, which Pyongyang sees as a much more tractable negotiating partner.
Calling Bolton “dim-sighted” and claiming that Pompeo engaged in “self-indulgence” and “reckless remarks” is a tactic to do just that.
Recall that it was the advice from both Bolton and Pompeo that kept Trump from accepting what would have been another lop-sided deal at Hanoi: major sanctions relief for the North in exchange for the destruction of one of what is believed to be only a fraction of Pyongyang’s nuclear facilities.
If the North were not interested in continuing negotiations, it would not bother trying to have Pompeo replaced or get Bolton sidelined. If Kim were walking away permanently, he wouldn’t waste the effort.
As further evidence, consider the North’s recent test of a weapon with a “peculiar mode of guiding flight.” Since it was not a launch of any long-range missile, no red lines established by UN sanctions prohibiting such events were crossed and Kim’s self-imposed moratorium on missile activity remains unbroken.
Moreover, Kim’s field visit to take in the testing of a tactical – not strategic – weapon is a sop to the military whose support he needs as he focuses on the economy and is engaging in denuclearization discussions with arch-enemy Washington.
The value of Kim overseeing this military activity is likely more for domestic propaganda than anything else.
OVERTURES FROM TRUMP
There are significant indications in the United States of its desire to continue dialog with the North as well.
To begin, Trump made the unusual move of sending greetings to North Korea regarding the 107th birthday of Kim Il Sung – North Korea’s founder and the grandfather of Kim Jong Un.
When one recalls that the elder Kim had fought UN forces to a bloody stalemate during the 1950-1953 Korean War, had high-jacked the US Navy vessel Pueblo in international waters in 1968, and had shot down a US Navy EC-121 aircraft in international airspace on his birthday in 1969, this courtesy is noteworthy.
Washington has further taken steps to not unnecessarily offend Pyongyang through its inaction regarding the latest report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the report by the Special Rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Council detailing the abuses of North Korea of its citizens.
Without a doubt, the United States is well aware of Kim Jong Un’s sensitivity on this subject and the rationale for the lack of reaction by Washington is two-fold.
Washington has taken steps to not unnecessarily offend Pyongyang
The first is eminently pragmatic, for if Trump were to suddenly bring this topic to the table, all chance of further dialog with Kim would immediately evaporate due to the ill-will it would generate.
The second is that Trump is naturally disinclined to get involved in the internal affairs of other countries. A number of political commentators see this as evidence of the American administration as being isolationist.
Perhaps, but it is equally possible Trump and his advisors are observing a concept from the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 that is now part of the United Nations Charter: the immutable sovereignty of a nation.
That is to say, no nation has the right to meddle in the internal affairs of another. Unfortunately, a number of U.S. actions over the last several decades have set the dangerous precedent of honoring that principle mostly in the breach, generally with disastrous consequences for all involved, as pointed out by Michael J. Green in the introduction to his recent tome “By More Than Providence.”
Finally, Washington’s response to the break-in and ransacking the North Korean embassy in Madrid, Spain, is noteworthy as well. The group Free Joseon – formerly known as Cheollima Civil Defense – claims responsibility for the action.
Perhaps to be expected, several of the members that participated in the raid are American nationals. Washington has arrested ten suspects, holding them for extradition to Spain, all in accordance with American and international law.
This action bolsters the declaration that America is a nation of laws and that its laws will be enforced, even when the perpetrators of a crime could be seen as having acted to the benefit of the United States.
Kim cannot fail to be impressed with this – and that is a benefit of the U.S. Department of Justice rationale for taking an action that Trump’s political opponents might falsely see as kowtowing to North Korean demands for justice.
Perhaps both sides will re-evaluate their unrealistic initial opening gambits
From a deeper reading of seemingly disparate events, it becomes clear that both North Korean and the United States are still very much interested in continuing discussions.
However, since both have different goals – Kim desperately needs relief from economy-crippling sanctions, and Trump fervently seeks to denuclearize North Korea – what will eventuate from further negotiations is far from clear.
After the failure of Hanoi, perhaps both sides will re-evaluate their unrealistic initial opening gambits, adopt a more realistic negotiating stance, and look for common interests to support outcomes that lead to a mutually acceptable deal.
Despite any rhetorical posturing, it is the only way progress in this delicate affair can be had.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: White House
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