The best news of the day is an indication North Korea is willing to hold direct talks with the U.S. about cessation of its nuclear and missile tests while negotiating nuclear weapons disarmament.
This would be a dramatic turnaround for combative North Korean Leader Kim Jong UN. The Trump administration is skeptical, but reports from the area are positive and President Trump corrals his own combative rhetoric.
“May be false hope,” he tweeted,” but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction.” This is vintage Trump. It’s an adequate stance for the moment.
The cause for optimism is more than passing fancy. South Korean officials returned from direct meetings in the North Korean capital reporting Kim had agreed to disarmament talks if military threats to his country were removed and a credible security guarantee provided for the future.
This is new rhetoric but many a devil lurks in details to come. Kim may want the U.S. to scale back its strong military presence in South Korea as a prior condition, and the U.S. will want it the other way around. Undoing this mutual stare-down will test the skills of negotiators and the strength of political wills on both sides, but both have strong incentive to figure it out.
Without sounding like Pollyanna, I hope the strong U.S. is willing to cooperate seriously enough to give the weak North Korea enough comfort to proceed seriously. After all, despite Kim’s bluster, we are the strong party in this confrontation. If we quit overt war games in the area in order to bring Kim to the table, we could ramp up again quickly enough if needed. We need not fear being regarded as sissies if we agree wholeheartedly to seek rapprochement. Indeed, we will be blockheads if we don’t give this opportunity every chance for success.
Terms of renewed talks should include involvement of China as co-monitor of promises kept by North Korea. China has kept a lifeline to the North as a way to protect its own interests in the area from feared incursion by the West. China has crucial leverage with North Korea and the U.S. The U.S. has crucial leverage with South Korea and China. Everybody has a stake in peace. It makes no sense for the nuclear rattling to continue, particularly for North Korea. We should assume it wants a deal.
If the seeds of de-escalation are not evident now when will they ever be? Both sides must avoid couching success in terms of overt victory. Neither side should be expected to crawl to the other. Everybody is losing at the moment. Standing tall and shaking hands is the goal. The U.S. can afford to do this first if need be, challenging Kim to simply do the same.
Kim has taken a first step. President Trump can do a lot to resurrect his foreign affairs credentials if he acts the strong, relaxed and comfortable leader instead of the blustering bully.
Never offend an enemy in a small way.