Proceed with caution
Is this a breakthrough in Korea?
Peace, it’s wonderful—or would be if the news over the weekend proves a harbinger of better relations between the two Koreas and a sign of peace and good will among all men.
This time our president and tweeter-in-chief, Donald J. Trump, sounded not bellicose but beatific as he tweeted the hopeful news. In a reference to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, Citizen Trump said that President Kim had “talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze. Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time. Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!” This time our president’s penchant for using exclamation points may be justified. Keep the good thought, or at least wild hope.
Who knows, the long and uneasy armistice that has prevailed for decades between the two Koreas might be replaced by a real peace treaty. For too long the Cold War on the Korean peninsula, which occasionally burst into a hot one, complete with tens of thousands of American casualties, might be replaced by a real peace treaty. Till now the allies in Korea have played a game of good cop and bad cop with the latest Kim to rule North Korea. But for once the North Koreans appear to be serious about making peace instead of using peace as a cover for their warlike aims.
For now South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in says a summit meeting between the American president and the North Korean one would be an “historical milestone.” For it would put the denuclearization of the whole peninsula “really on track.” South Korea’s president Moon predicts that the American president’s leadership will be praised “not only by the residents of South and North Korea but every peace-loving person around the world.”
Skeptics, aka realists, we will always have with us, and too often they’ve been justified by events. Let’s hope this time the outcome will be better. The chairman of this country’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce of California, said the latest news signaled that pressure on North Korea was working and will continue to work if the Trump administration will just keep it up, and pursue “more diplomacy as we keep applying pressure ounce by ounce.” Ed Markey, a Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, referred to this diplomatic breakthrough as the beginning of a long diplomatic process, not a conclusion, and urged the administration to avoid “unscripted” remarks that could upset the whole very much welcome peace process.
Lindsey Graham, the youthful but sage senator from South Carolina, warned North Korea’s dictator that “the worst possible thing you can do is meet with President Trump in person and try to play him. If you do that, it will be the end of you—and your regime.” As for the best thing this administration can do, it would be to follow Ronald Reagan’s by now time-tested policy of trust but verify.
Daryl Kimball, who directs the international Arms Control Association, says that it’s too much to expect that a single meeting between the American and North Korean presidents could solve every difference between them. “But,” he was quick to add, “if the U.S. works closely and intensively with our South Korean allies in its approach to North Korea, a summit offers the potential for starting a serious process that could move us decisively away from the current crisis.”
To quote another arms-control expert, “We need to talk to North Korea. But Kim is not inviting Trump so that he can surrender North Korea’s weapons. Kim is inviting Trump to demonstrate that his investment in nuclear and missile capabilities has forced the United States to treat him as an equal.”
Rather, to quote Vice President Mike Pence of this country, the United States has made no concessions to prepare the way for a meeting between the two powers and isn’t backing away from the sanctions it’s already applied to North Korea. Which is assuring. For this country has been snookered too many times by the North Koreans to risk being fooled once again.
Unsteady as it goes, this country’s search for peace is well worth the double-edged effort. Let’s keep it up, remembering that the American eagle holds in its talons both an olive branch and a quiver of arrows.