Trump sows confusion by rejecting idea of North Korea talks
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.