Trump plays with North Korean fire and fury by canceling Pompeo trip

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No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, you must give credit to the Trump administration for trying everything it can to break the cycle of talks-followed-by-tensions when it comes to dealing with North Korea.

Until now, that is.

{mosads}By suddenly canceling an upcoming visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — announcing it on Twitter, no less — President Trump is gambling that his team can shake up the diplomatic landscape, as they did in spring when the president canceled his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (also on Twitter). The Trump administration seems to be gambling this will be a way to get Kim to finally “make progress towards” denuclearization, as agreed to at the Singapore summit, and to hold the regime accountable.


And hold them accountable we must. But is this the really the best approach?

In fact, Pompeo seemed ready to get answers from Kim in the best format possible, especially as the United States has made irrevocable concessions to the North. These include three visits by Pompeo to North Korea, the presidential summit in June, the suspension of joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises, and President Trump publicly offering clearly conciliatory comments toward Kim — far from the days of calling him “Little Rocket Man” and threatening to unleash America’s “fire and fury.”

North Korea, for its part, has done nothing concrete to change the status quo on the Korean Peninsula that nearly brought Washington and Pyongyang to the edge of war. Each measure the North has taken — partially breaking down a nuclear testing ground and a missile testing platform, as well as suspending testing of these weapons — is reversible. While we must credit the regime for returning U.S. hostages and the remains of U.S. service members from the Korean War, those actions do not solve the fundamental disagreement between America and North Korea.

Secretary Pompeo’s visit could have been truly historic — as in, resulting in a diplomatic breakthrough or getting to the truth of the North’s intentions. But now we will never know.

With both sides seemingly deadlocked on what should happen next, it is in America’s vital national interests to have a firm game plan going forward. One way the administration can do this is to give the North something it has been clamoring for: a peace declaration that officially ends the Korean conflict, once and for all. This should be an absolute no-brainer, since United Nations and North Korea forces have been at peace for 65 years, and a formal end to this conflict is in everyone’s interest.

The United States should offer this to Kim, and raise the possibility of a joint ceremony with the heads of state of North Korea, South Korea, the United States and China, as well as the U.N. secretary general, to put to bed one of the last — and ugliest — legacies of the Cold War. We could even offer a sweetener, a gesture of goodwill: no preconditions. This should prove to North Korea that we are willing to make major concessions and truly are no threat.

But, as in all things, the administration must make clear to Kim that America’s goodwill has been stretched to the limit — and that Washington has done all it can to show that it can be a reliable partner with no hostile intent. It is time for North Korea to make a bold move of its own and show its cards; it must declare to America and our allies the size, scope and sophistication of its nuclear weapons and missile programs. The United States must demand that North Korea soon make such a declaration, since that is the only way to scope out what a full-denuclearization program would look like, how many personnel would be involved and what the costs would be.

Indeed, the future of U.S.-North Korea relations may well hinge on what happens over the next few days. If America offers the above, in a good-faith effort to assure the Kim regime that it is sincere and is no threat to Kim, and North Korea still will not even declare how many nuclear weapons or missiles it has, how big its production facilities are, or where they are located, then  we know we have been had. That will surely force Washington to consider a much harder line, doing all it can to isolate and sanction the regime.

Here is where things can go very wrong — and very fast. The Kim regime likely will blame America for the diplomatic impasse and quickly want to prove to the world that America’s actions don’t matter. Pyongyang will begin testing long-range missiles that can hit the U.S. homeland in short order. The most dangerous move of all would be to actually test a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere by firing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) into the South Pacific, to prove to the world it has the means to kill millions of people at a moment’s notice.

If that were to happen, Washington might just conclude that the North Korean regime has forfeited its right to exist, or at the very least, seek to ensure that Kim’s weapons of mass destruction are neutralized by military action. And that could unleash a war the likes of which this world has not seen.

It seem the North Korea crisis is not over — it’s just entering a new phase. Stay tuned.

Harry J. Kazianis (@grecianformula) is director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, founded in 1994 by President Richard M. Nixon, and executive editor of its publishing arm, The National Interest. He previously worked on the foreign policy team of the 2016 Ted Cruz presidential campaign and as foreign policy communications manager at the Heritage Foundation, editor-in-chief of The Diplomat, and as a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The views voiced in this article are his own.

Tags Aftermath of the Korean War Donald Trump Kim Jong-un Mike Pompeo North Korea–United States relations North Korea–United States summit

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