Pro­ceed with cau­tion

Is this a break­through in Korea?

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE - Paul Green­berg Paul Green­berg is the Pulitzer Prize-win­ning ed­i­to­rial writer and colum­nist for the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette.

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.

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