Trump’s diplo­matic gam­bit

To counter North Korea’s nu­clear am­bi­tions, the ad­min­is­tra­tion is eas­ing off the bel­li­cose rhetoric.

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION - Orth Korea’s

Nnu­clear pro­gram, which reached an omi­nous mile­stone last month with the test­ing of an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile ca­pa­ble of reach­ing Los An­ge­les, has prompted some of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s worst for­eign-pol­icy mo­ments.

At times the ad­min­is­tra­tion seemed to sig­nal, al­most ca­su­ally, that it was con­sid­er­ing a pre­emp­tive strike on North Korea, which could trig­ger a land war on the Korean penin­sula and the deaths of tens of thou­sands of peo­ple. At other times Pres­i­dent Trump seemed to think that China could be eas­ily in­duced to pres­sure North Korea to aban­don its nu­clear am­bi­tions.

Now, for­tu­nately, the ad­min­is­tra­tion seems to have set­tled on a pol­icy of mut­ing the bel­li­cose rhetoric and giv­ing diplomacy a chance. That ap­proach paid off last week­end when the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil unan­i­mously ap­proved a res­o­lu­tion im­pos­ing un­prece­dent­edly tough eco­nomic sanc­tions on North Korea. Sig­nif­i­cantly, the sanc­tions were sup­ported by China, which ac­counts for more than 90% of North Korea’s ex­ter­nal commerce. China’s for­eign min­is­ter said that he had ad­vised his North Korean coun­ter­part not to “pro­voke the in­ter­na­tional so­ci­ety’s good will by con­duct­ing mis­sile launch­ing or nu­clear tests.”

The new sanc­tions could block a third of North Korea’s ex­ports and un­der­mine the coun­try’s sta­bi­liz­ing econ­omy. But there is no guar­an­tee that they will be en­forced by the North’s trad­ing part­ners, or that they will per­suade it to com­ply with a se­ries of U.N. res­o­lu­tions against its nu­clear and mis­sile tests. Cer­tainly the North’s ini­tial re­ac­tion was de­fi­ant. North Korea’s for­eign min­is­ter warned that warned that Py­ongyang “will, un­der no cir­cum­stances, put the nu­clear and bal­lis­tic mis­siles on the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.”

But that re­ac­tion was to be ex­pected. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, which os­ten­ta­tiously an­nounced this year that it was end­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pol­icy of “strate­gic pa­tience,” now seems will­ing to wait for at least some time to see if the new sanc­tions lead North Korea to re­con­sider that po­si­tion.

In­deed, the ad­min­is­tra­tion even­tu­ally may be will­ing to re­sume talks with North Korea with­out a com­mit­ment by Py­ongyang in ad­vance that it would be will­ing to dis­man­tle its nu­clear pro­gram. On Monday, Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son told re­porters that “the best sig­nal that North Korea could give us that they’re pre­pared to talk would be to stop these mis­sile launches.” (In an­other ges­ture, Tiller­son said last week that the U.S. did not seek “regime change” in the North.)

This com­bi­na­tion of pru­dence and pres­sure is less emo­tion­ally sat­is­fy­ing than the sim­plic­i­ties and saber-rat­tling of the first few months of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. But it’s also more re­spon­si­ble and re­al­is­tic.

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