SEOUL – President-elect Joe Biden signals a return to reality in US policy towards North Korea after President Trump failed to gently tell Kim Jong Un to give up his nuclear weapons and missiles that could fire them at distant targets, including the United States.
While Kim and the North Korean state media machine remain silent on the election, Biden chose to mark Veterans Day with a visit to a memorial to Korean War veterans, honoring their sacrifice and American support for South Korea against the North.
Biden’s decision, along with his wife Jill, to lay a wreath at the Philadelphia Memorial “should send a positive message about building and sustaining the strength of the alliance,” said David Maxwell, a special forces officer from the retired army who made five rounds. in South Korea.
Maxwell, now a senior researcher at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said the post provided “insight into his perspective on Korea,” while diplomatic analysts Biden knew as President Obama’s vice president should take a very different approach from North Korea. of Trump. Obama warned Trump that North Korea would be “the most pressing problem” he faces after joining the White House four years ago.
When or if Kim will agree to lengthy talks between negotiators is far from certain, given that North Korea’s Central Korean News Agency published a scorching commentary last year denouncing Biden as “a fool of no quality. elementary as a human being, let alone a politician.
KCNA sparked rhetoric in May 2019 after Biden, at a rally in Philadelphia, berated Trump for his warm dealings with “bullies,” including Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The commentary in English accused Biden of “intolerable and grave politically motivated provocation” by “slandering the supreme leadership of the DPRK”, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“Explicitly,” KCNA said, “we will never forgive anyone who dares to provoke the DPRK’s top leadership, but we will certainly make them pay.” In a subsequent comment, KCNA became even more explicit, saying “rabid dogs” like Biden “must be beaten to death with a stick.”
The level of anti-Biden vitriol far exceeded that of the North Korean attacks on Trump, which the North had ridiculed as “a dowry” while Trump in a UN speech in 2017 called Kim “the man- rocket ”for ordering missile tests as well as nuclear. warheads. All was forgiven when Trump and Kim met in Singapore in June 2018 for the first of their three meetings, in which they signed a brief joint declaration resolving to achieve a “nuclear-free Korean peninsula.”
The prospect of a sharp turnaround from when Trump said he ‘fell in love’ with Kim almost at first sight, or at least at first hug, is a source of concern for the South President. Korean Moon Jae-in, who met Kim four in search of reconciliation and dialogue. Korea’s ruling Democratic Party chairman Lee Nak-yon called for the “reaffirmation” of the statement issued by Trump and Kim in Singapore as “the starting point” for South Korea and the United States “Are working together to rekindle peace on the Korean Peninsula. process.”
Against this point of view, however, Victor Cha, who advised Korea while he was on the White House National Security Council under President George W. Bush, bluntly stated that “all deals made.” with North Korea “have failed one way or another.” “With Trump’s diplomacy,” Cha said during a panel at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, “we’ve had a lot of images ”while North Korea“ simply took giant strides ”, manufacturing nuclear weapons and missiles.
“First and foremost,” said Cha, now a professor at Georgetown, “you have to stop the growth of their weapons program,” including the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could be launched from submarines. near the coasts of the target countries.
With Kim out of public sight for more than three weeks, Ban Ki-moon, former UN secretary-general, warned he could “test-launch a missile to test the Biden administration” and urged the South “to send strong messages” to the North. Korea, then “they don’t make such provocations.”
Biden made no hint of a hard line in a phone conversation with President Moon in which they dodged the North Korean threat while falling back on familiar clichés. Moon’s assertion of “our first commitment to a strong alliance” did not fail to displease the North, which rejected talks with the South while accusing Moon of currying favor with the United States at the expense of the North. statements signed by Moon and Kim in 2018.
Biden’s commitment to improving relations between the United States and South Korea was implicit in the telephone conversation, which frayed due to Trump’s demand for a substantial increase in the South’s contribution to American bases. Last year, South Korea paid $ 927 million for the bases on which the United States has 28,500 troops, for which Trump originally requested $ 5 billion.
Regardless of the Veterans Day event, Biden is committed to improving relations with his allies, ”said Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation. “His vow to drop President Trump’s demands for sky-high increases in host nation support as well as Biden’s pledge not to prematurely reduce US troops on the Korean Peninsula will eliminate two major factors in the deterioration of relations between Washington and Seoul.
While Biden is expected to come to an agreement with South Korea with a relatively modest increase, he’s also sure to rely on negotiators to try and find ways to communicate with Kim on the need for a deal.
But how do you get there? Christopher Hill, a former ambassador to South Korea who ultimately led unsuccessful American negotiations with North Korea during the Obama and Bush administrations, predicted “a greater focus on the substance of the engagement and why we are ready to commit ”.
A critical part of the process would be relying on the CIA and other agencies to discern what the North is doing and what to do about it. “The president has completely alienated intelligence,” Hill told the CSIS panel with Cha. “We need to know what can be done to slow down their program. We need to have better leverage. “
Hill, however, led the United States nowhere in six-party talks on the North’s nuclear program, and then in one-on-one talks with the North Korean nuclear negotiator, and the prospect of ‘a repeat of these charades is disturbing.
“We are perhaps moving towards a policy that seeks to ‘manage’, not solve, the nuclear challenge,” said Evans Revere, former senior diplomat at the US embassy in Seoul, who disagreed. with Hill at the time and left the State Department.
Revere seemed to have Hill in mind when he predicted that “the personalities of a future Biden presidency” would “argue that it is time to make” small deals “with Pyongyang that limit its nuclear weapons program, but do not end it. Result: “They will indeed agree to accept a nuclear North Korea.
To make matters worse, the folks at Biden aren’t getting the briefings they need as a prelude to taking over. The State Department, apparently under Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, does not pass messages to the Biden team of foreign governments, and those Trump installed in the Pentagon after Mark Esper was sacked as secretary at Defense are coming inferior.
“Briefing papers are important, but they really need access to expert officials who have been working on the issues for four years,” Maxwell said. They need to get down to the hard work of sharing information ”- and“ the current state of all issues within the alliance ”.
And now what? “One of the main priorities of the Biden administration is to send a signal,” said Sue Mi Terry, a former CIA analyst now with CSIS. “How do we know North Korea would honor a deal?”
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