Trump sows con­fu­sion by re­ject­ing idea of North Korea talks

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD -

True to form, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump sowed pol­icy con­fu­sion with a tweet.

Declar­ing Wed­nes­day that “talk­ing is not the an­swer’’ on North Korea, Trump’s mes­sage ap­peared to clash with ef­forts by his Cabi­net mem­bers to safe­guard the pos­si­bil­ity of a diplo­matic so­lu­tion as Kim Jong Un’s mil­i­tary races to­ward mas­ter­ing a nu­clear-tipped mis­sile that can reach Amer­ica.

The pres­i­dent’s morn­ing tweet came a day af­ter a highly provoca­tive North Korean mis­sile test that flew over Ja­pan, a close Amer­i­can ally, po­ten­tially en­dan­ger­ing civil­ians on the ground. On Wed­nes­day, Kim called for more weapons launches in the Pa­cific.

“The U.S. has been talk­ing to North Korea, and pay­ing them ex­tor­tion money, for 25 years. Talk­ing is not the an­swer!’’ Trump tweeted.

The state­ment raised fresh un­cer­tainty about the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s strat­egy for North Korea. How the U.S. plans address the North’s grow­ing nu­clear ca­pa­bil­i­ties is of in­creas­ing ur­gency not just in North­east Asia, but also in the United States. Last month, the iso­lated, com­mu­nist coun­try tested for the first time a mis­sile that could po­ten­tially strike the U.S. main­land.

Trump didn’t spell out what he meant by “ex­tor­tion,’’ but he ap­peared to be re­fer­ring to the $1.3 bil­lion the U.S. has pro­vided in aid to North Korea since 1995. Most of that has been food and fuel.

Crit­i­cism of past ad­min­is­tra­tions’ fail­ures to halt North Korea’s march to­ward nu­clear weapons has been a re­cur­rent theme from Trump. How­ever, his com­ment over­looked that fact there’s been vir­tu­ally no U.S. aid to North Korea since early 2009. Talks also have been in limbo for years. The last for­mal ne­go­ti­a­tion be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Py­ongyang on the nu­clear is­sue oc­curred in 2012.

Elim­i­nat­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of new ne­go­ti­a­tions could limit U.S. op­tions. It also risks in­creas­ing the chance of mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion be­tween nu­clear-armed pow­ers.

Within hours of Trump’s tweet, De­fence Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis ap­peared to con­tra­dict him.

“We’re never out of diplo­matic so­lu­tions,’’ Mat­tis said as he met with his coun­ter­part from South Korea for talks on mil­i­tary readi­ness.

The U.S.-al­lied gov­ern­ment sup­ports, in the­ory, greater diplo­matic out­reach to Py­ongyang. If war were to ever break out, mil­lions of South Kore­ans would im­me­di­ately find them­selves within range of the North’s large con­ven­tional weapons ar­se­nal.

In Geneva, Robert Wood, the U.S. am­bas­sador to the Con­fer­ence on Dis­ar­ma­ment, sought to ex­plain the pres­i­dent’s tweet.

Trump was ex­press­ing his frus­tra­tion at North Korea’s “dan­ger­ous and provoca­tive threats,’’ Wood said. But like Mat­tis, he said the U.S. re­mained will­ing to dis­cuss the North’s de­nu­cle­ariza­tion.

“The United States is open to try­ing to deal with this ques­tion diplo­mat­i­cally, but the other side is not,’’ Wood told re­porters.

It’s not the first time Trump has com­pli­cated his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s na­tional se­cu­rity mes­sage via so­cial me­dia.

Last month, as aides worked to defuse ten­sions be­tween Qatar and its Arab neigh­bours, Trump blind­sided them by tweet­ing that Qatar funded ter­ror­ism. The gas-rich monar­chy hosts 11,000 U.S. troops.


Peo­ple fill the square of the main rail­way sta­tion to watch a tele­vised news broad­cast of the test-fire of an in­ter-con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic rocket Hwa­song-12 Wed­nes­day in Py­ongyang, North Korea.

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